ATHENS — East Hall graduate Sterling Bailey is making the most of his senior year with the Georgia Bulldogs.
Heading into the South Carolina game Saturday night, Bailey had 72 career tackles and one sack from his defensive tackle spot. Nine of those tackles in the first two games this season.
The last time the Gamecocks showed up in Athens, the fifth-year senior had a career-high night, totaling 10 tackles and a sack on quarterback Connor Shaw, a Flowery Branch High grad.
Bailey’s dad, Kevin, remembers that night well and made sure Sterling did, too.
“I said, ‘Son, don’t you remember the last time you were here playing against South Carolina,’” Kevin Bailey said. “’You got 10 tackles and one sack. I want you to double that.’ He just looked at me, smiled and said, ‘OK, Daddy.’”
Bailey wasn’t able to double his numbers in Saturday’s 52-20 win, but he was able to pick up five tackles. He also got credit for half of a tackle for loss as he helped John Atkins blow up a play on the Gamecocks’ running back in the second quarter.
Going into the game, Bailey said he wasn’t even thinking about that night in Athens two years before.
“Someone brought it up to me, but I wasn’t thinking about it because that’s the past and I want to focus on the future,” he said.
Kevin Bailey said he can’t believe it’s Sterling’s senior year and the ride will be over just a few short months from now.
“It’s been unreal,” he said. “The ride has been so wonderful. If anybody had told me this was his fifth year, I wouldn’t believe it because it went by so fast. We’re taking it all in.”
While his parents are taking it all in, Sterling Bailey said he’s just looking to leave his mark.
“Just do something special,” he said. “It’s my last year here. I’ve been putting in work the last couple of years and I don’t want to leave here knowing that I came up short several times.”
Kevin Bailey said one of his messages to his son was to make goals for himself and achieve whatever he sets his mind to.
He said Sterling set the goals, but won’t reveal them just yet.
“He won’t tell me (what they are),” Kevin Bailey said. “He told me he almost accomplished one of his goals so far and once he accomplishes them, he’ll let us know what they are.”
“One of my goals is to go out there and dominate,” Sterling Bailey said. “Take over a game and be a game-changer.”
Still, that is the only goal he would let slip.
Though he’s seen it many times, watching Sterling take the field donning the red-and-black G is still a shock for his dad.
“I can’t believe it,” Kevin Bailey said. “For me to see my son come out there on that field, it’s unreal. Over 93,000 people (in Sanford Stadium) and more than a million people at home – I can’t believe it.”
Sterling Bailey agreed. The atmosphere in Sanford Stadium is something that he said is impossible to describe.
“The whole atmosphere during an SEC game, there’s no way to describe it, especially between the hedges,” he said.
“When you’re out there, it’s like you’re floating on Cloud 9. It’s an amazing feeling.”
With that in mind, Bailey said he’ll miss playing between the hedges in Athens and his last game will be one he won’t forget.
“Of course. I’m always going to miss playing between the hedges,” he said. “It’ll be unforgettable, my last game between the hedges. You want to leave a lasting mark here and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
In the eyes of many UGA fans, beating Steve Spurrier is a lasting mark for a team and a player.
As for beating Spurrier in his final game against him, Sterling Bailey said, “there’s no greater feeling.”
He will have five more games at home before his final one Nov. 21 against Georgia Southern.