East Hall grad Sterling Bailey’s time at the University of Georgia is coming to a close.
Last week, Bailey played between the hedges and in front of the sea of red and black that fills Sanford Stadium for the last time in an overtime win against Georgia Southern.
On Saturday, he will play his last regular season game as the Bulldogs strap up and take the field at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta against Georgia Tech.
In the next month or so, Georgia will be heading to a bowl game. When the final whistle blows, it will bring the end to four quarters of football and five years of a career for Bailey of wearing the famed G on his chest.
“(Last week) was a very emotional game,” Bailey said. “It being my last home game between the hedges for senior night, it was just a night I’m always going to remember for the rest of my life.”
Along with the rest of the seniors, Bailey lined up in the locker room, sprinted out to the field, met his family and took a photo with coach Mark Richt.
“I felt all kinds of emotions. I was happy, sad, excited, just so many emotions,” Bailey said about the Senior Night ceremony. “Just going there for the last time and having my family there — there’s nothing like having your family out there with you between the hedges. Starting the journey, your family is with you. To have them there at the end, it’s truly a blessing.”
Bailey’s journey at UGA began in 2011, his true freshman season.
That fall, he saw his teammates win 10 straight games, win the SEC East and make a trip to Atlanta to play for the conference championship against the No. 1 LSU Tigers.
The next season, Georgia won 11 of its 12 regular season games, won the SEC East again and fell to No. 2 Alabama in the SEC Championship. The Bulldogs ended the year with a 45-31 win over No. 16 Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.
The 2013 season was an 8-5 season with home wins over No. 6 South Carolina in Week 2 and No. 6 LSU two weeks later. The Bulldogs also beat Florida and Georgia Tech that year.
Last season, Georgia opened the year with a 45-21 win over No. 16 Clemson, shut out No. 23 Missouri, who went on to win the SEC East, and took down No. 9 Auburn 34-7.
The Bulldogs finished 2014 with 10 wins and a 6-2 conference record.
This year, Georgia is sitting at 8-3 with the Yellow Jackets and a bowl game left to play.
Still, Bailey said there are two games, other than Senior Night, he’ll always remember.
“The games I’ll always remember were two years ago (2013) against South Carolina and LSU,” he said. “People said we were underdogs and we showed them what we could do and came out with W’s in those two games.”
That South Carolina game remains to be Bailey’s best game statistically. He tallied 10 tackles against the Gamecocks that night in Sanford Stadium.
Up to this point, a Georgia team with Bailey on the roster has won 75 percent (30-10) of its SEC games. In total, the Bulldogs have a 48-17 record (.738 winning percentage) since 2011 heading into today’s Tech game.
With two more wins, Georgia would earn four 10-win seasons in Bailey’s five on campus.
“That means a lot,” Bailey said. “It goes to show you how much we accomplished together, that we believe in our coaches and what they’re doing. When we actually pay attention to the details and do what they told us, we can be very successful.”
Heading into today’s matchup, Bailey said there’s still a bad taste in the mouth of the players from last season’s loss to Tech.
“Even though it wasn’t my Senior Day, I still remember it,” he said. “I still have reminders about it every day. We know we’ve got to go in and handle business and get this bad taste out of our mouths.”
In three games against the Yellow Jackets, the fifth-year senior has totaled eight tackles. Still, he says his only goal, the only target, is to pull out a win on Saturday.
With there still being eight quarters left in his football career with the Bulldogs, Bailey said he feels he’s had a special career.
“I think I’ve had a really good, really special career,” he said. “Being able to get my degree and be a part of several 10-win teams, I think I’ve had a good career.”
Bailey already has his undergraduate degree in history, but is now taking classes toward a political science degree.
Eventually, he wants to teach. But, first, he has other things, including taking a shot at playing in the NFL, on his radar.
For now, Bailey wants to say “thank you” to all the people who have shown him support from the Gainesville area, even if it was “something as simple as sending me a message on Facebook.”
As a kid whose Vikings team was 5-35 in his four years in high school, Bailey said keep fighting to get recognized and have faith.
“Work hard and never give up on anything,” he said. “Anything is possible with hard work. And trust God. He has a plan for you.”