Sterling Bailey isn’t ready to start reminiscing yet. While his years playing football at Georgia have flown by, he’s still got one more season to line up at defensive end for the Bulldogs.
After solid production the past two seasons, Bailey wants his senior campaign to be his best to show he can compete in the NFL once his college eligibility is complete.
Having played in 28 games in his career (nine starts), Bailey is the most experienced player at his position for Georgia.
The 280-pound graduate of East Hall High has high expectations for himself as he looks to cement his own legacy in Athens, as well as groom the young players getting ready to slide into the Bulldogs’ program.
On Saturday, Bailey and the rest of the Bulldogs will take to Sanford Stadium for a preview of the 2015 season in the G-Day Game in Athens. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
“I love everything about the G-Day Game,” said Bailey, who recorded 27 tackles as a junior. “It’s always great to get on the field at Sanford Stadium and play in front of all our fans.”
Bailey was part of a Bulldogs defense that saw many improvements in 2014 under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. The biggest positive was a defense that created 16 more turnovers than the offense made on the season (fourth best in the nation and school history). Georgia (10-3, 6-2 in Southeastern Conference) scored 110 points off turnovers last season.
The former US Army All-American for the Vikings, who had his jersey dedicated back to the school during a 2014 pre-game ceremony at East Hall, said winning the turnover battle for Georgia was a huge point of emphasis under Pruitt’s new system.
“All season, last year, he was preaching to force turnovers,” said Bailey. “He has very high expectations for us on the defensive side of the ball.”
Last season, Georgia won against Arkansas, 45-32, thanks to causing changes of possession. The Bulldogs’ scored 24 points off of four Razorbacks turnovers, while the offense didn’t turn the ball over once on the day. Georgia also pitched defensive shutouts in wins against No. 23 Missouri, Troy and allowed just a single touchdown in a 34-7 win against No. 9 Auburn.
Even though the positives were evident, there’s still plenty of areas Georgia’s defense will work to improve, Bailey said. Georgia posted a disappointing effort against the run in losses to Florida (418 rush yards allowed) and Georgia Tech (419).
Bailey wants to bridge the gap in experience with the younger players by playing the role of mentor to younger defensive players who will soon step onto campus in Athens. His role as a senior will be to act like a leader on the practice field, weight room and film study. He’s also eager to talk about anything going on to make them feel more comfortable while making the transition away from home for the first time. Bailey says it’s like being a big brother on the team.
“We just always want to talk to the young guys, make sure they’re learning the plays,” Bailey said. “We want to make sure the new guys get comfortable and always have someone to talk to.”
Bailey’s on-team mentor was fellow defensive lineman Abry Jones back in 2011. The biggest thing Bailey took away from his friendship with Jones was to appreciate the opportunity.
“He (Jones) was always telling me not to take anything for granted,” said Bailey, who plans to graduate in the spring with a degree in history.
Bailey believes attention to detail during the spring practice, then the summer preseason will help launch Georgia’s defense to even better production in 2015. The Bulldogs have a staunch home schedule next season with home games against South Carolina (Sept. 19), Alabama (Oct. 3) and Missouri (Oct. 17).
“I really want to lead by example,” said Bailey.