Former Mountaineer Wideout Continues Long Journey Back To The NFL
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Calling his journey quite extraordinary, Stedman Bailey took another step in his attempt to get back to the NFL.
The receiver worked out in front of scouts at West Virginia’s Pro Day on Thursday, which is an accomplishment in itself when one considers the circumstances. WVU’s single-season leader in reception yardage at 1,622 in 2012, Bailey was a third round draft pick by the then-St. Louis Rams in 2013. He amassed 59 catches in 38 career games before being forced to retire in 2015 due multiple gunshot wounds suffered on Nov. 24 of that year near his hometown outside Miami. Two of those were to the head, with Bailey falling into critical condition.
After several surgeries, and spending weeks in the hospital, Bailey continued his recovery and was eventually able to accept a position on the Mountaineer staff. The desire to play was still there, but there were health concerns with the strength of his skull until a titanium plate was inserted last October. That cleared the wideout physically, and Bailey is now trying to again make an NFL roster.
“I felt good overall and did really good in the route portion,” Bailey said. “I was very fluid, and that’s what I set out to prove. It’s been quite an extraordinary journey. But I have been a guy who has faced adversity my whole life. I want to continue to prove people wrong.”
A four-star recruit out of Miramar High in Miami, Bailey came to West Virginia in the same 2009 class as Tavon Austin. The pair played together at the collegiate level for three seasons, both declaring for the 2013 NFL Draft. The Rams selected both, Austin going in the first round and eighth overall, while Bailey was selected with the 59th pick. Together, they totaled 6,631 yards and 70 touchdowns in WVU’s offense, with Bailey accounting for 3,218 of those yards with 41 scores, a school-record 25 of which came in his final season.
Austin is still with the now-Los Angeles Rams, having racked up more than 4,500 yards rushing, receiving and in the return game. Bailey, meanwhile, is trying to get back to his professional career some 28 months after the shooting.
“I feel like a lot of people should still know that I could be a good player. It’s more so the medical part, just wondering if I’ll be cleared to play,” Bailey. “That’s the frustrating part. I had a surgery where the doctors put a titanium plate in my head. It’s harder than a human skull. That changed the game for me from a safety standpoint. My doctor has said I’ll be fine. I don’t think about that part much.
It was Bailey’s plastic surgeon who suggested the plate, saying that it would increase his quality of life from a protection standpoint if he were to ever hit his head. It could not only save another surgery down the road, but allowed bailey to properly note that he’s now “like a man of steel.
“It was a week of chilling,” he said of the surgery recovery. I had a little swelling and I had to let that go down. My doctors told me to take it easy working out, and as good as you feel, you can push yourself.”
He has, right up to the cusp of again playing professionally. His family was supportive, and also quite cautious, about any potential return, though Bailey
“Everybody who is extremely close to me knows about my love of the game,” he said. “It’s all about safety first, and the whole healing process for me has been very good. I was able to run routes five months after the shooting. That says a lot, me being able to see myself do that let myself know that it would probably be a long road, but I have been down this road before in facing adversity and pushing through it.”
There have yet to be any surefire takers in terms of NFL teams, but several have expressed interest.
“I’m getting some talk from a few different teams,” Bailey said. “I look at it as trying to be patient. There’s still a lot going on with free agency and the draft coming up. I control what I can which is to come out here with the opportunity given and show I’m still a good receiver.”