By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Stedman Bailey, the most productive and probably the greatest wide receiver in West Virginia football history, has announced that he will enter the National Football League draft this season rather than return to West Virginia for his senior season.
His departure, along with his high school friend and teammate, quarterback Geno Smith, and slot receiver Tavon Austin will bring an end to perhaps the most dynamic offensive trio the school has ever had.
Smith and Austin are both seniors.
Their final game will be in the Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium against Syracuse on Dec. 29.
The announcement was not unexpected as Bailey, who finishes his career with 202 catches for 3,097 in just three years, second to Austin’s 224 catches and 3,383 yards compiled in four years, has nothing to gain by playing his senior season.
“I honestly think at this point my stock can’t get a lot higher. There will be a new quarterback and I would have defenses keying in on me and my numbers could go down from this year,” he said.
The situation would be a difficult one at best. Smith will be gone and it’s unknown at this time whether Paul Millard or Ford Childress will be throwing the ball, the offensive line will have to be rebuilt and Austin, whose presence keeps teams from concentrating on him, will not be on the other side.
Added to that is the fact that this year Bailey became the father of a son.
“I kind of weighed out all of my options, sat down with my family, sat down with Coach (Dana) Holgorsen and we all came to the conclusion that this was the best decision for me,” said Bailey. “I thought it out for quite a bit.
“Having a son is a true blessing. It made me realize that I’m an adult now and have responsibilities of a man. I want to raise my son in a very good way, the way I was raised. I want to be in a good position to where I can do so,” he said.
“If I go to the next level there are things like money and stuff like that which will allow me to take care of my child without any worries.”
There also enters in the fear of injury, something driven home to Bailey this year when he saw South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore come back for his junior season after suffering a serious knee injury as a sophomore, only to suffer an even worse injury as a junior.
Bailey said he understood why Lattimore came back, needing to prove himself healthy with a good year. He, too, suffered an injury this year to his ankle that slowed him for a couple of games but said worrying about it being injured again as a senior did not enter into his decision.
“My ankle injury wasn’t too bad. I was able to play on it. It didn’t factor into my decision.
“When it did happen, I wasn’t thinking about going to the NFL then. It was very frustrating. I kept wondering when is this ankle injury going to be over for me. That took the NFL out of my mind,” he said.
Before making the decision, Bailey spoke with Holgorsen.
“I support him fully,” said Holgorsen. “I have had juniors in the past as receivers that have come out and if you put two good years together as a receiver and you are an underclassman, then you’ve got a chance to do some good things at the next level and that’s what they look for.”
Smith, however, did not enter into making the decision.
“I rarely have conversations with Stedman on decisions of that magnitude because I feel that’s between him and his family. Whatever decision he was going to make I was going to back him 100 percent. I think he’ll do great at the next level,” Smith said.
However, Smith says he’s interested to see where Bailey winds up going in the draft and predicts that he will be a successful NFL receiver.
“Stedman is one of those guys who when you turn the film on doesn’t just leap off the screen at you,” Smith said. “He’s not 6-5, he doesn’t run a 4.3 and doesn’t have a 40-inch vertical but he’s going to beat his man one-on-one every time, he’s going to be where he’s supposed to be on the routes, he’s sure-handed, he goes up in traffic and makes the play.”
Could this passing combination possibly continue from high school through college and into the NFL with the same team drafting both?
“I’d love to see us go to the same team. It would be a dream come true,” Smith said.
Bailey was one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, presented to college football’s top receiver, following a 2012 regular season that saw him catch 106 passes for 1,501 yards and an NCAA-best 23 touchdowns. Bailey was named a first team All-American by the Football Writers Association and CBSSports.com, and was a second team choice by Walter Camp and Associated Press.
His greatest moment came in the first Big 12 game in WVU history, the 70-63 victory over Baylor in which Bailey caught 13 passes for 303 yards and five touchdowns. The yardage and TDs were WVU records.
He also put in a 14-catch, 225-yard effort against Oklahoma State, a 13-catch, 205-yard, four-TD game against Oklahoma and an 11-catch, 159-yard, two-TD afternoon against Kansas.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.