Bailey leads young secondary


Sophomore free safety Winston Guy Jr. runs the ball for Kentucky during their game against EKU on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009 at Commonwealth Stadium. The football team was leading EKU 17-6 at the half. Photo by Allie Garza

Before having ever played a down in Division I football, junior safety Mychal Bailey was already an Internet sensation.

Bailey is just one of many Cats in recent years to make his way to campus via LaGrange (Ga.) High School. During a game in his senior year of high school, Bailey won a bet against former high school teammate and current UK teammate Qua Huzzie for the hardest hit down the field.

The result of the bet was the “LaGrange Hard Hits” YouTube video—one with more than 53,000 views—that shows Bailey delivering a literally spleen-rupturing hit to an opposing player.

“I saw the dude running and trying to tackle my guy, so right when I saw him, I ran full-speed to try and make a big hit and that’s what I ended up doing,” Bailey said of the video that has helped solidify his reputation as a hard-hitter. “I didn’t realize it was going to be that big of a hit.”

Having originally signed with UK in 2007, Bailey has spent the past two years at Southwest Mississippi Community College in an effort to become academically eligible. Bailey passed his summer classes and since then, he has been impressing coaches and teammates for more than just his big hits.

Bailey was rewarded for his efforts during fall camp when UK head coach Joker Phillips released the team depth chart Monday and his name was atop the list of free safeties.

In practice, Phillips has used Bailey as a kickoff and punt returner, a role he relished in both his high school and junior college days. He is currently listed as the backup punt returner.

Phillips said he expects Bailey to play all the time on special teams coverage.

So far, the hardest part of the transition from junior college hasn’t been related to the physical side of his game, but the mental component, Bailey said.

“The hardest part has just been learning all the plays because I’m going to go out there and play my heart out, regardless,” said Bailey, who memorized most of the playbook in a week-and-a-half, but said that “it’s still extending.”

Elsewhere in the secondary, junior Winston Guy is a returning starter and will slide over to strong safety following Calvin Harrison’s graduation.

Another one of Bailey’s ex-LaGrange teammates, junior Randall Burden, is a returning starter at cornerback. Burden has assumed the role of top cornerback following the graduation of Trevard Lindley, while sophomore Martavius Neloms, who was pressed into duty as a true freshman last year, will line up opposite him as the other starting corner. But speedy freshman cornerback Jerrell Priester is pushing Neloms for more playing time.

“The thing about (Priester) is he’s one of those guys that is not very big, but he’s very aggressive and he runs well,” Phillips said. “He has great vertical, which you have to have if you’re a small guy at the corner position.  He got a lot of reps when some of our older corners were down…He’ll be an impact before this year is over also.”

As nice it may be to have a potential shutdown corner, Phillips has stated the key to not only a successful secondary, but a successful defense.

“I keep harping, the difference between an average and a great defense is a safety spot, and we know Mychal Bailey is a great tackler,” Phillips said. “He’s one of those YouTube heroes that knows how to run into people.”