ALMA — Grayson Bailey has lived kind of a charmed life as a receiver for the Airedales.
As a sophomore, he flourished as defenses concentrated on college-bound Brayden Johnson.
Last year, Bailey was Alma’s leading receiver by a huge margin as the go-to guy.
This year, he’ll be counted on not only as the team’s lone returning receiver with experience but also to be the key defensive back in a secondary that lost all four starters from last year.
“His sophomore year, he kind of played in the shadows of Brayden Johnston, but he still had some big plays,” Alma head coach Doug Loughridge said. “Whenever teams took away Brayden, he would be the guy. Last year, he had to step up and be the guy. This year, he’s going to be equally as important, offensively and defensively. He’s our best defensive back and he’s our best receiver.”
The 6-3 Bailey, though, should get plenty of help on the offense with another 6-3 receiver, Bobby Winfrey, as well as plenty of others who are vying for playing time.
“The guys below me and Bobby Winfrey, we work well together,” Bailey said. “They’re carrying their weight as much as I have.”
Bailey is also adjusting to new offensive coordinator Greg Kendrick, the former head coach at Charleston.
“I believe the ball is going to spread around a lot,” Bailey said. “I think we’ll all get a lot of reps. If they are all on me, it opens up the other guys so I’m not worried about that. I’m just going to do the best I can to get open.”
Bailey makes a formidable tandem with quarterback Landon Blair.
“Grays is a phenomenal receiver,” Kendrick said. “He’s about as good of a receiver as I’ve coached. He had that little issue last year that I feel like we have corrected. That guy’s a lot like Blair in terms of his work ethic and what he was committed to what we wanted to do. When he saw that we’re going to get that guy the ball, he was really pleased with what we are doing.”
His best games have been against Van Buren. Last year, he caught six passes for 127 yards and a touchdown against the Pointers. Two years ago, he caught three passes for 57 yards and a score.
“Back-to-back years, his best game has been against Van Buren,” Loughridge said. “He had a knockout night his sophomore year and last year, he had a big night.
As a sophomore, Bailey was second on the team behind Johnson with 19 catches for 343 yards and five touchdowns. Last year, he snared 46 passes for 817 yards and eight scores.
That’s where a little attitude adjustment came in.
“Last year, it was about him,” Kendrick said. “I had to get my stats and my touches. The guy’s been really, really good about leadership and if he touches it 13 times one practice and the next practice he touches it two I haven’t heard a word of negativity from him. Just watching him grow up and mature and understand that it’s about us and not me, and doing what it takes to win has been his biggest attribute thus far.”
The entire defensive secondary was depleted with graduation so the athletic and fast Bailey will start on defense as well.
“He’s a difference maker,” defensive coordinator Eric Marsh said. “He’s a playmaker.”
Bailey may be a natural fit on defense where stats don’t matter.
“He’s never really played defense so he doesn’t have the attitude issues,” Marsh said. “If you want the ball you have to go get it. He will. He’s a ball player. He likes to hit. He’s just a special defensive back for us.”