Iraq War Veteran Preparing to Resume
Football Career at Mississippi State University
While many other star high school athletes set their sights on college football, Timmy Bailey signed with a different recruiter — Uncle Sam.
Now, after serving a year in Iraq, the 21-year-old private in the U.S. Army National Guard is back home. And remarkably, four years after Bailey graduated from a tiny high school in the rural Mississippi Delta, the soon-to-be sophomore has attracted more attention from college coaches than ever.
“It’s maturity — I’m not your average recruit,” Bailey says. “I can talk better with the coaches on a one-on-one basis, and they love it.”
Bailey signed a binding letter-of-intent to play linebacker at Mississippi State University on Feb. 1, the first day of the national signing period, and will finally begin the college football career that he had put on hold.
“It’s an amazing story, and he’s an amazing kid who’s not a kid anymore — he’s an amazing man,” says Jeff Horn, his coach at Riverside High School in Avon, Miss.
Bailey was a star tight end and linebacker from the town of Glen Allan (pop. 1,118) who was preparing for his senior season in 2001 when he came to a startling decision. Two days after turning 17 — and unbeknownst to his coach — Bailey volunteered to join the Army National Guard.
“At the time, Coach Horn didn’t know I was going to join, and he really didn’t want me to join,” Bailey says.
Bailey led the team that season with nearly 900 yards receiving. But he still couldn’t get the attention of the big-name college recruiters.
“I didn’t get a lot of recognition out of high school. That kind of hurt me,” Bailey says. “But Coach Horn always said, ‘Keep your head up because you’re going to get there one day.’”
After graduating from high school, Bailey, who is 6-foot-3 and 237 pounds, completed basic training in 2002 and enrolled in Mississippi Delta Community College the next year, leading the team in tackles in 2003 and finally drawing the attention of several Division I-A schools.
But shortly before the start of his sophomore season in August 2004, he learned his unit — the Hernando, Miss.-based Troop A 98th Cavalry — was being activated for duty in Iraq. Bailey reported with his unit to the Guard’s training site south of Hattiesburg, Miss., then spent roughly a year in the war-torn country driving trucks.
He returned safely to his home state on Dec. 28 and found out three Southeastern Conference schools — Mississippi, Mississippi State and Alabama — not only remembered him, they were recruiting him.
Bailey picked Mississippi State because of a promise made to him by MSU’s head coach, Sylvester Croom. Before being deployed to Iraq, Croom told him there would be a spot waiting for him if he made it back safely. Croom was as good as his word, offering Bailey the scholarship as soon as he returned to Mississippi.
— Associated Press
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