Korentheus Bailey will finally be able to exhale when he leaves his home in Lula on May 31 to attend Western Kentucky University on a football scholarship. Only then will this former standout for the East Hall High football team be able to put the struggles he’s endured in the past year to rest.
Playing college football is something that was always in his plans. He just never took into consideration when he was younger how fragile a college scholarship is.
"It’s going to be such a big relief when I get to Western Kentucky since I know how hard I’ve worked to get back on track," Bailey said.
Bailey never had trouble getting the attention of college coaches for his abilities on the football field. That was the easy part for this hard-hitting defensive lineman that led Hall County in tackles during his senior season in 2006.
Back then, he was on the radar of major Division I programs such as Mississippi State, South Carolina, Georgia Southern, Indiana and Illinois. He decided his senior season to sign with Mississippi State.
But Bailey had to learn the hard way the trials and tribulations that come as a result of not qualifying academically. He fell shy of required test scores on both the ACT and the standardized high school graduation test. He didn’t miss the required score by much on either test, but it was enough to keep him off the field — and off of campus — during what would have been his freshman year of college.
Making the ordeal more complex was the fact that Bailey was never a bad student. But he didn’t carry a high enough grade point average for the NCAA clearinghouse in the four core academic subjects. His problem was that he cruised through the first couple of years in high school making mostly C’s with a couple of B’s sprinkled in. Even a solid senior year of high school making mostly B’s didn’t put Bailey above the 2.5 grade point average he needed.
As a result of being labeled an "academic risk," Bailey had to deal with rejection and being passed over for would-be football scholarships — not once, but twice.
For many athletes that’s where the story ends: A promising athletic future is permanently sidelined by failure to persevere through academic hardships.
No one ever guaranteed Bailey anything after he was originally passed over by Mississippi State when he failed to qualify by the August 1 deadline. But his family refused to let a few bumps in the road derail his chance to pursue his college education and life-long dream of playing college football at the Division I level.
"The thing Korentheus has learned is nothing is going to be given to you, even if you are great on the field," East Hall football coach Bryan Gray said. "You have to make the effort, and that’s an important lesson for all kids to learn."
As strange as it may sound, his parents Kevin and Laura Bailey insist the lessons Korentheus learned by not making high enough grades his freshman and sophomore year of high school have made this future Hilltopper a better person.
"More than anything we just kept encouraging Korentheus and told him to have faith in God," his mother said. "We are so proud of him that he never gave up."
What made the difference for Bailey was the amount of people in his corner. His family always was there to let him vent his frustrations, and the Vikings football coach was there calling college coaches with updates and sending off test scores at a moment’s notice. He also had a caring church family at Lula’s Church of Life Deliverance Tabernacle keeping him in their prayers through all the hard times.
"He learned you have to trust in God," his father added. "There’s more to life than just football."
Bailey also had the assistance of tutors at East Hall to help him prepare for re-taking the graduation test — five times in all. Bailey still walked with his high school class in the spring of 2007, but because he failed the science portion of the exam, he fell just shy of the 500 needed on the graduation test. When he walked across the stage at graduation he received a certificate of performance from East Hall.
Each time he took the graduation test, he got closer and closer to passing, and on the fourth attempt he scored a 499.
"Scoring a 499 was devastating," Bailey said. "I was getting really frustrated."
But things started to turn in his favor when he passed the graduation test with a 503 on Aug. 5. That left only the ACT test on the docket to satisfy the clearinghouse. It was really a race against time — Bailey need to qualify before national signing day for football in February.
He got closer and closer to the score needed on the ACT (70) with each attempt.
"He was totally at the mercy of the test," Gray said.
Bailey took the ACT again before Christmas to try to have test results back in time for February. But a two-week delay in receiving the test results because of Christmas vacation had the family concerned they wouldn’t make the deadline.
"I checked the internet everyday hoping to see the test results posted," Bailey’s mother said.
With those fears in mind, the Bailey family started weighing its options. Playing Division I football was out of the question without the needed test scores. But the Baileys were promised a full ride for Korentheus at Mississippi Delta Community College — the only problem was he didn’t want to play junior college football. Still, he agreed to go since it seemed to be his only chance to get on the football field in 2008.
The good news
Laura Bailey says she took off the day from work on Jan. 18 expecting to be driving her son eight hours down the road to his new home in Mississippi the following day. It was that day that Bailey’s aunt called his mom and insisted she check to see if the test results were posted.
She figured it wouldn’t hurt to look again, and she was overwhelmed when she logged on and saw the best news of all — he passed the test.
At the time, Bailey was at the doctor’s office with his father and younger brother Sterling. His mother called his father’s cell phone to relay the good news.
"When I finally passed the ACT, it felt like there was a big burden off my shoulders," Bailey said.
The Bailey family immediately printed out a copy of the test results and called the NCAA clearinghouse.
Finally, Bailey felt like things were starting to pan out. But the hurdle of getting an interested program with room in its signing class still hadn’t been resolved.
Once cleared academically, Bailey visited Middle Tennessee State with his family and felt like things were on the up-and-up. They acted interested and he felt like MTSU was going to be his suitor. But a day passed and he never heard from the MTSU coaching staff. They called Gray and said they weren’t going to offer Bailey.
But that disappointment didn’t last too long. Bailey got a call from WKU defensive line coach Eric Mathies, who asked a simple question, "Do you want to be a Hilltopper?"
Once Bailey and his father visited the WKU campus in Bowling Green, Ky., they knew it was going to be a great fit. He signed his letter of intent on Feb. 25 and ended a year of agony with one stroke of the pen.
"It would mean so much to our family if he went to Western Kentucky and got that college degree," his father said.
Teaching the lesson learned
Bailey now urges other players in his situation to avoid the academic pinch he put himself in. He knows first-hand what it’s like to wonder if a golden opportunity has been squandered and decided the best course of action would be to take responsibility for his own actions.
In December, Bailey returned to East Hall with other players he graduated with to share their experiences of playing sports at the next level. Obviously, his message was a little different than former classmates he played football with like Jay Jackson and Lee Coleman, who are both playing college football now.
Addressing the upperclassmen assembly at his former school was a difficult task for Bailey.
"I really got down a lot during this time in my life," Bailey said. "I told the kids to never give up, because there are a lot of people there for you."
Bailey now has his future settled and can devote his time to being ready to play football after taking a year off.
In order to get back into football-playing shape, he works out regularly with his uncle Bobby Morse Jr., a minister, who stressed the importance of keeping his faith in God in tact.
Bailey is also back in the process of running again and trying to get the spring back in his step after tearing his meniscus his senior year of high school, which kept him away from playing baseball.
Laura Bailey hopes Korentheus’ experiences make an impact on his little brother Sterling who is expected to be a standout in football and basketball. This experience is clearly a one-time deal for the Bailey family.
"I told Sterling we’re not going through this again," she said. "I would rather him ride the bench than have to go through this again."