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Harris: WVU's Bailey should stick around

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 11:39 p.m.
Tribune-Review
West Virginia receiver Stedman Bailey catches a touchdown in front of TCU cornerback Jason Verrett in the second overtime Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va. TCU rallied moments later to defeat the Mountaineers, 39-38. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

If his coach's name was John Calipari, Stedman Bailey's early departure from West Virginia would be a foregone conclusion.

Hello, NFL!

Bailey, the Mountaineers' superb junior receiver, would happily take his gaudy numbers to the play-for-pay league and never look back as a player who's projected to go in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft.

It would be the smart move — the money move — in a violent sport where any play might be your last.

Why stick around if your skills can enhance your bank account substantially?

Calipari — the Kentucky basketball coach and Moon native who encourages his talented underclassmen to leave school early — would be first in line to shake Bailey's hand.

Following WVU's 59-10 win over Kansas, reporters asked Bailey if he will enter the NFL Draft a year early.

“I'm not sure about that yet,” said Bailey, who caught 11 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns in what could have been his final game at Milan Puskar Stadium. “I do have another year of eligibility.”

Other than another year of eligibility, why would Bailey stay?

“Just try to finish on top of the NCAA — all the records,” said Bailey, a three-year starter who ranks first among active FBS players with 37 career touchdown receptions and is No. 3 nationally this season in scoring and receiving yards per game, as well as fifth in receptions. He's second in career receiving yards at WVU, behind Tavon Austin.

Coach Dana Holgorsen isn't certain about Bailey's plans. Holgorsen needs Bailey back next year not only because he's a prodigious talent. Bailey's return would help the transition with WVU career passing leader Geno Smith's replacement — sophomore Paul Millard or freshman Ford Childress.

“I haven't talked to anybody at this point,” Holgorsen said. “What we did last year with several guys is fill out the proper paperwork with the NFL in regards to a player's projected draft position. That is in regards to what they think your draft status may be. There are several juniors on our team that we did that for, just like last year — that is pretty common. When it comes back, that is when you sit down and have the talk with them.”

Let's listen in, shall we?

Holgorsen: “Stedman, we'd love for you to return for your senior year. The scouts tell me there are a couple of things you need to work on — like improving your burst off the line of scrimmage and escaping press coverage. You also have an opportunity to set multiple school receiving records. Plus, you'd finally have the spotlight all to yourself.”

Bailey: “Geno and Tavon are leaving. I've known Geno since middle school, and he puts the ball right where I like. With Tavon gone, there will be no more single coverage for me. I lead the nation in touchdown catches, and I'm a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. My NFL stock will never be higher than it is right now.”

Holgorsen: “There's nothing I can do to change your mind?”

Bailey: “Sure there is. Make it so that Geno and Tavon have another year of eligibility.”

Holgorsen: “I can't do that. ... Good luck in the NFL.”

Bailey departs for Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday to attend the Home Depot College Football Awards Show, where he is a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award honoring the nation's top receiver. The winner will be announced Thursday night on ESPN. The other finalists are Baylor's Terrance Williams and USC's Marqise Lee.

What would becoming the first Biletnikoff Award winner at WVU mean to Bailey?

“It's an honor to be mentioned with those two guys and to be on the way down to the awards,'' Bailey said. “I watch those guys as much as I can when I'm not playing. I respect both of their games. They're very good receivers.

“The opportunity is here. I never really saw it, becoming a finalist. It's a blessing. It'll mean a lot to bring that trophy back to West Virginia.”

It will mean a lot more if Bailey returns to Morgantown for his senior year.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com.

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