Bailey ready to be No. 1 at SU
The wait is finally over for Antwon Bailey. After three seasons of playing second-string much too often, he's ready to be the go-to guy in the Syracuse backfield.
''Waiting my turn was a tough process. I'm not going to lie, especially at the beginning,'' said Bailey, 2007 Gatorade Player of the Year in the Washington, D.C. metro area and a three-time MVP at St. John's College High School.
''Coming out of high school and being the man - any running back coming into the position I was in it would be hard, especially knowing that you can play at this level and play at a high level.''
Bailey, a shifty, multi-talented back, scored 45 touchdowns and rushed for 2,878 yards in high school, and as a senior captain he gained 1,356 yards on 175 carries, scored 23 touchdowns, and also averaged 33 yards on punt returns.
But when he enrolled at Syracuse, Curtis Brinkley, Delone Carter and Averin Collier were in the pecking order ahead of him, and he had to bide his time despite showing flashes of brilliance.
As a freshman in 2008, he led Syracuse with 126 yards rushing on 16 carries and scored once in a 24-23 victory over Notre Dame. His 26-yard scoring run up the middle in the fourth quarter sparked an Orange comeback in their lone road win of the season.
Bailey had two starts as a sophomore and keyed a stunning 31-13 win at home over No. 25 Rutgers with 181 all-purpose yards.
When Carter was suspended in February of last year and Collier left school because of academic issues, Bailey thought his time might be at hand last summer. But Carter was subsequently reinstated at the start of preseason practice in August and became the featured back.
Still, Bailey gained much more playing time, getting into every game, and finished with 554 yards rushing on 114 carries - an average of nearly 5 yards a carry. He also was second on the team in receiving with 35 catches for 306 yards.
''I just did my part,'' Bailey said. ''Whenever my number was called, I tried to do what I could.''
In retrospect, waiting hasn't been such a bad thing after all.
''I was able to learn a lot from the guys who were in front of me,'' Bailey said. ''We were able to critique each other, and it made me a better player.''
The 5-foot-8, 195-pound Bailey has big shoes to fill as he contemplates his senior year. Carter, who overcame a dislocated hip after his freshman year to fashion an impressive career with the Orange, gained 1,233 yards in 2010 and finished as the school's third-leading career rusher.
''Antwon's doing well,'' coach Doug Marrone said. ''We're looking to see how the other guys do.''
Behind Bailey are Prince-Tyson Gulley and Jerome Smith, who have barely any college experience at tailback. Gulley had just 13 carries for one touchdown as a freshman but did average nearly 22 yards on 29 kickoff returns and hopes to continue as a returner in the fall. Smith played only briefly in two games before injuring a shoulder early last October.
''I feel strongly about this year,'' Gulley said. ''I learned speed last year. It (the game) has kind of slowed down a little bit for me. Now, I've got to make the right adjustments to be a better player.''
All three will have to excel if the Orange hope to maintain a ground attack that averaged 140 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. With a much more balanced attack, Syracuse finished 8-5 last fall and played in a bowl game for the first time in six years,
''Between myself and the stable of young backs we have - they're really talented - I think everybody will get to see that in the spring game (next week),'' Bailey said. ''But it's still spring ball. We've still got a long way to go.''