When Derrell Bailey Jr. wants any extra motivation — when he needs to do one more squat rep, one more sprint, one more of anything to get better — all he does is think back to the number of scholarship offers he had in February.
No head coaches or assistants were talking to him. He had no letters, no emails and no ranking or star rating on the 247Sports Composite.
“Nobody knew me,” said Bailey, a defensive end at Greenback School (Tennessee). “I have a chip on my shoulder. I work out and feel that way because it can all be taken from me any day of the week.”
Bailey is the No. 8 player in the inaugural Knox News Elite Eight, the eight best football prospects in the Class of 2020 in the area, as selected by the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Bailey committed to Virginia Tech on Sunday, picking the Hokies over LSU and Virginia. He is a three-star recruit and No. 33 in Tennessee, according to the 247Sports Composite.
Tennessee has not offered him.
From zero offers to 33
Greg Ryan, Greenback’s football coach, credits Bailey’s rise in stock to his intelligence, his strength and his size. Bailey’s as smart as he is strong, Ryan said, and learned the Cherokees defensive and offensive schemes with no problem.
Bailey, who’s 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, recorded 69 tackles, nine tackles for loss and seven sacks his junior season. Ryan said Bailey’s foot speed improved from his sophomore to his junior season, allowing him to get off ball quicker and be a more effective pass rusher.
He was the defensive player of the year for Region 2-1A but still had no offers. But Ryan helped change that because players with his size, skill and stat line should gather some interest. Throughout the season and the offseason, Ryan sent Bailey’s film to colleges across the country, hoping coaches would notice Bailey — who’s usually the tallest player on the field.
“We got more exposure for him,” Ryan said. “We put his video out and a lot of people started contacting us.”
Bailey’s first came offer came in February.
A multi-sport athlete, Bailey was getting his ankles taped before a basketball game against Jellico when Virginia defensive line coach Vic So’oto called him.
“Congratulations,” So’oto told him, “you just received your first offer and it’s to play at Virginia.”
By the next night, UAB, Tulane, Mississippi State and Austin Peay had extended offers. By the end of March, he had picked up another six. By the time spring practice started, Oregon, Kansas and Georgia Tech had offered. And by the end of May, so had Oklahoma, LSU and Florida.
“Oklahoma was the biggest one for me, that one was more personal for me — they were ranked (No. 4) in the country (at the end of last season),” Bailey said. “(Defensive line coach Calvin) Thibodeaux told me to stay in the weight room and get bigger.”
Why he chose Virginia Tech
One of the reasons Bailey chose Virginia Tech over a school like LSU was because of differences between the conferences.
“I feel like looking at some of the ACC quarterbacks, some of them get 30 to 40 pass attempts per game,” Bailey said. “And then you go the SEC where they get 20 to 25 attempts per game.”
LSU and Virginia Tech recruited him as a defensive end, but he felt like the ACC suited him better because he’s more of a pass rusher — not a run stopper.
He went on an unofficial visit to Virginia Tech over the weekend and liked that Blacksburg, Virginia, was a small town — like Greenback. On the drive back, he knew the school was the right choice.
“I just loved it,” Bailey said. “The coaches were different, the school was unique. I felt like I can focus on school and football with no distractions. I can separate myself.”