By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Every night for the past week has been the same for Stedman Bailey. Sleep doesn’t come easily, not at first anyway, for he is thinking about, envisioning one moment, a moment he hopes is early in Friday night’s Backyard Brawl.
Geno Smith will drop to pass, he’ll see Bailey open, hit him with the pass and it will be over.
Stedman Bailey will hold the single-season record for receiving yards at West Virginia, breaking David Saunders’ 15-year-old record of 1,043 yards.
“Seven yards,” said Bailey, knowing exactly what he needs. “I think about it every night. I set back and just smile, thinking about my name going into the record books.”
It is an awesome thought for a receiver who wasn’t considered a major recruiting coup coming out of high school.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t a productive receiver, it was just that he wasn’t the big, rangy type of game-breaking receiver you normally see breaking records. Chris Henry, the only other man in WVU history to catch passes for 1,000 yards other than Saunders and Bailey, was taller, rangier and faster.
“You don’t have to be big to make plays,” Bailey would say. “It’s what’s in your heart.”
That is a term he uses often when discussing his goals, his dreams, his abilities. He believes in this idea of inner strength, of something from within driving you through sports, through life.
He played at Miramar High with Geno Smith, a major benefit here at West Virginia, for the two of them are forever on the same page, having spent years playing pitch and catch with Bailey.
“To see what he’s been through, to see him prospering and finally getting the recognition he deserves is important. In my eyes he’s the best receiver in the country,” Smith said.
Bailey knows he wasn’t considered at the top of the receiving crop coming out of high school, not carrying the five-star rating others had. He believes that was for the better.
“The critics do drive me,” he said.
There really are no limits on where Bailey will wind up as a receiver. While he isn’t a blazer, he has speed and he is intelligent and hard-working, understanding what defenders are trying to do so that he’s able to take advantage.
He has 1,000 yards with two games left beyond the Pitt game, South Florida and a bowl game. How high can he take the record this year?
“I’m averaging 100 yards a game,” he noted. “That would be 1,200 or 1,300 if I hit my average, but I may go for 200 in one of those games. In this offense there is no limit.”
And with the attitude he carries there also is no limit.
“Football is my first love,” he said. “I’ve played since I was 9 years old. I’ve always been able to make plays. I just love the game so much I can’t picture life without football.”
Football has given him a chance to build a great life.
“There’s not a lot of people who have the opportunity I have,” Bailey said.
That includes going after a college degree and, perhaps, a career in the National Football League.
But first there’s a matter of beating Pitt this week, a huge game for WVU as the Mountaineers still have a chance to earn a BCS bid if they can win out and get Louisville to drop a game.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.