WVU needs Stedman to declare for NFL draft
Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 06:11
In recent years, the football program at West Virginia has seen an inspiring uptick in its national brand. Though the program has seen several improvements to its national reputation, the most recent and drastic transformation started with a man called "Rich Rod" and came to a thumping crescendo in the form of a 37-point dismantling of the ACC champion in the warm breeze of the Miami night a little less than one year ago.
On that night, with only commercials interrupting then-junior quarterback Geno Smith’s shredding of Clemson’s secondary on live television, the Mountaineers became something different than what they were in the past.
They reinvented their brand.
Membership in the Big 12 Conference was on the horizon, a multitude of playmakers were at the disposal of perhaps the county’s hottest offensive mastermind at the time, and the athletic director overseeing the whole operation was busy pulling a double-shift as dad to the NFL’s next John Elway (No. 1 draft pick and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck).
That brand, though, took a hit this season, when the Mountaineers became notorious for poor defensive play and had to deal with constant snickering from naysayers reminding West Virginia they weren’t in the ever-soft, crumbling joke known as the Big East anymore.
Today’s world of college football moves so fast with people and teams, conferences and coaches moving in and out of the spotlight before they have a chance to fully introduce themselves.
The brand that surrounded this team with the aura of the Orange Bowl victory is gone; good or bad, it’s moved on. A recovery, though, is in the works; For that, West Virginia can thank former defensive end Bruce Irvin, a member of the Seattle Seahawks and perhaps the hottest defensive rookie in professional football.
Former Mountaineer greats like Sam Huff (an NFL Hall of Fame inductee) and Jeff Hostetler (a Super Bowl champion) have shown that West Virginia players have the capability to become great professionals.
However, until Irvin’s arrival, the most consistently recognizable player in the pros that came from West Virginia is Colts kicker/punter Pat McAfee (sorry, Pacman, that’s not the kind of spotlight I’m talking about).
If you look at the past decade in the NFL draft, the same schools dominate the draft boards. Like factories for future professionals, these schools (USC, Florida, Alabama, etc.,) have an aspect of their brand that West Virginia has never, ever quite had.
That’s an indisputable fact. As a university, West Virginia has continued to swell in enrollment, popularity and national prominence. Morgantown has been recognized as one of the country’s best college towns – a claim I can certainly attest to. However, at the end of the day, some of the nation’s best high school players will never commit to a school based on the aforementioned factors.
For a guy who is set on playing in the NFL, it doesn’t matter what kind of town it is; the Mountaineers haven’t quite been able to compete in that arena yet.
But that might be changing.
This is why redshirt junior Stedman Bailey declaring for the NFL draft would be a good thing for West Virginia.
With quarterback Geno Smith and inside receiver Tavon Austin both graduating – and headed to NFL locker rooms – it would ultimately benefit Bailey to follow his buddies into playing Sundays.
Bailey is a hypertalented receiver with impeccable hands and great speed, but if history is any indication, sometimes coming back for a senior season can cost players all of those things. An injury would cost
Bailey tons of money and the ability to shine in the pros as a former Mountaineer.
If Smith, Austin and Bailey are all drafted into the right situations, a triumvirate of talented ex-Mountaineers will draw attention to this program that it has never received.
Besides, as tough as Bailey’s departure would be for next year’s team, another player would be given an opportunity that didn’t previously exist. If it’s going to be a rebuilding year, you may as well go all-in and call it as such.
Ultimately, Stedman Bailey’s future is brightest outside of Morgantown. As a player who has set numerous school records in his three year career, he has already drawn the eye of potential recruits and shown them that West Virginia is a place where talented high school players can go to become great college competitors.
Now it’s time for Bailey, Smith and Austin to show those players the same is true for the transition from West Virginia to the NFL.