This is not how Armon Bailey envisioned his football career at Sacramento State coming to an end. The 2018 Vanden High School graduate expected the Hornets to beat UC Davis in the Causeway Classic, win the Big Sky Conference and host an FCS playoff game.
Bailey had every reason to believe the Hornets could achieve all three. Sacramento State beat UC Davis and won or shared the Big Sky championship in each of the past three seasons. And the Hornets began each of their three playoff appearances with a home game.
Two out of three would have been fine with Bailey. One out of three would have been acceptable – especially if that one was another victory over the Aggies. Going 0-3 left the linebacker to wonder how a season with so much promise fell short of his expectations.
At least the Hornets are in the playoffs. Sacramento will face North Dakota in Grand Forks on Saturday. The Hornets are 2-4 against the Fighting Hawks, but Sacramento State won in each of its past two visits, most recently in 2017. Bailey had seven tackles when the Hornets lost 41-15 at home to North Dakota in 2018.
UC Davis was left out of the playoffs despite a 31-21 win over Sacramento State last week to finish 5-3 in the Big Sky. The Hornets were 4-4 and would have also been snubbed if not for their 30-23 win against their former coach, Troy Taylor, at Stanford on Sept. 16.
Sacramento State also received credit for three of its four Big Sky losses coming against ranked FCS teams – Montana, Idaho and Montana State. UC Davis did not play Montana State or Idaho. The Aggies lost to Montana, Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington.
Falling to 0-11 against Eastern Washington cost UC Davis after the Eagles finished 3-5. The Aggies would not have merited any consideration if they had lost to Sacramento State. Bailey did all he could to prevent that by leading the Hornets in tackles with nine.
“For me personally, it really sucked. I didn’t want to go out on that kind of note,” said Bailey, who had eight or more tackles in seven games this season. Bailey leads the Hornets in tackles for the second consecutive year with 82. He had 88 as a junior in 2022.
Marte Mapu finished second to Bailey in tackles last season with 76. Mapu was named the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and the New England Patriots selected him in the third round of the 2023 NFL draft. He now starts at linebacker for the Patriots.
The 23-year-old Bailey believes Mapu has paved a path for other Hornets to have an opportunity to play in the NFL. One such player for the 2024 draft is Bailey, who is a two-time All-Big Sky selection after missing a total of 13 games in 2019 and 2021 with injuries.
As a “humble kid,” Bailey will not come out and say he believes he deserves a shot. As a “resilient guy,” he would welcome the challenge of proving he can compete against the elite.
“I feel like it’s right around the corner,” said Bailey, who has earned a degree in criminal justice and is thinking of applying for law school. “Everything is starting to fall into place.”