Most of Armon Bailey’s teammates bolted to the locker room once practice ended Tuesday at Sacramento State. Bailey remained on the field for extra work as if the senior was a freshman or sophomore trying to impress the coaches in hopes of earning playing time. Bailey starts at inside linebacker for the Hornets, so his playing time is a given.
Northern Colorado will see plenty of Bailey on Saturday when the Bears pay a visit to Sacramento to battle the Hornets at 6 p.m. The Bears may be in for a long night because they are 2-3 and have allowed an average of 44 points in the three losses. The Hornets are 4-0 and ranked fifth in the latest FCS poll. They are averaging 45 points a game.
Bailey does not take any game for granted. The Vanden High graduate has come too far and endured too much to think he has got it made. Injuries forced Bailey to miss four games in 2019 and nine last season. The Hornets opted not to play in the spring of 2021 when COVID-19 led to the 2020 season being rescheduled and reduced to five spring games.
Spending a few minutes after practice to sharpen his skills is nothing compared with all the Saturdays he spent in street clothes on the sideline. Bailey is majoring in criminal justice, but he has already earned a degree in perseverance. It would have been so easy to toss in his doo rag and limp away with little to show for his college career.
Defensive coordinator Andy Thompson never lost faith in Bailey because Bailey never gave Thompson a reason to do so. Bailey attended all team meetings and studied film with his teammates even when he was a bystander at practice and games.
“You have to keep yourself engaged with the team,” said Thompson, who coaches the linebackers. “When you’re connected with the team, when you know your coaches and teammates care about you, you can get through the tough times. (Bailey’s) injuries were setbacks. They were bumps in the road and he had to overcome them.”
The support of his teammates was all Bailey needed to push through his injuries in hopes of rejoining them on the field one day. Injured players are easy to dismiss when they have nothing to contribute, but Bailey’s teammates never turned their backs on him.
“I had dark days, but my teammates were always there to pull me out of it,” Bailey said. “I tried to stay with my teammates as much as possible. I tried to stay inside the game.”
His days are much brighter this season. Bailey leads the Hornets in tackles with 25 after having a total of 16 in victories over Colorado State and Cal Poly the past two weeks. In each of those weeks, he was named the Defensive Player of the Week in the Big Sky Conference. Bailey is just the third defensive player in school history to earn the award twice in a season. Anybody want to bet he will be the first to do it three times?
The awards are a testament to Bailey’s commitment to the Hornets. He strived to come back as much for his teammates and coaches as he did for himself. “That speaks to his character,” Thompson explained. “It’s easy to coach kids who work real hard and are unbelievable people off the field. Armon is an unbelievable kid.”
Bailey believed in himself even in the darkest times. So did Thompson. “He never gave up on me,” Bailey said. “I never had a doubt that I was going to make it back.”