Sterling Bailey is living a dream seven years in the making.
It gets serious Sunday when he leaves his home in Lula for the start of training camp as an NFL rookie with the Indianapolis Colts.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Bailey, a 2011 graduate of East Hall High. “It’s one of the first things on my mind when I wake up every day is that I’m in the NFL.”
Undrafted out of the University of Georgia in 2016, the defensive end Bailey is keenly aware that it will be an uphill climb to make the 53-man roster for the Colts when they play host to the Detroit Lions in the season opener on Sept. 11.
Bailey will have five preseason games to show he’s worthy of a roster spot, starting with the Hall of Fame game against the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio.
The former U.S. Army All-American from East Hall High is one of 90 players on the list of training camp invitees for Indianapolis. However, Bailey knows his odds of making the cut are increased as one of only two defensive ends on Indianapolis’ roster. The other player at his position is nine-year veteran Kendall Langford, out of Hampton University.
In addition to that lack of depth on the defensive front, the Colts only drafted one defensive lineman, Hasaan Ridgeway a defensive tackle in the fourth round from the University of Texas, in 2016. Indianapolis spent four of its eight picks in the 2016 draft on offensive lineman to protect franchise quarterback Andrew Luck.
Since returning home from rookie camp almost a month ago, Bailey has been preparing physically and mentally to make an immediate impact on the Colts’ coaching staff.
Going undrafted gave Bailey a little extra incentive to show he is worthy of a spot on the regular-season roster, he said.
The first day of training camp for Bailey in Indianapolis is Wednesday.
“I’m excited about my first NFL training camp,” said Bailey. “I have to make sure to do all the little things right and do my best on every single play.”
A budding basketball star with a long frame growing up, the 6-foot-3 Bailey said it was only after breaking his foot for the second time in 10th grade that he finally turned his attention fully to football. Since then, he’s filled out to a more desirable 295 pounds to play defensive end in the NFL.
During his weeks home this summer, Bailey has stayed in the weight room as much as possible. He’s gone to Atlanta regularly to workout with former Georgia teammates Amarlo Herrera (also with the Colts) and Toby Johnson (Minnesota Vikings). Bailey has also been working out at the training facility for the Georgia football program in Athens.
When in rookie camp in June, Bailey made sure to probe the veterans like tight end Dwayne Allen and outside linebacker Trent Cole, among others, as to what it takes to make a strong impression and sustain a pro career.
“One thing they told me was to stay in the playbook,” said Bailey.
Bailey said he received positive feedback from coaches during the rookie stage of camp. Now he just has to continue to progress with the entire roster on the field, everyone clamoring for a spot on the team.
“I just have to make sure to do all my assignments right on every play,” Bailey said. “The film catches everything for the coaches to see.”
Even it Bailey doesn’t make the Colts’ active roster, he could be picked up to the 10-man practice squad. Or if he’s released from Indianapolis, another franchise could pick him up during camp.
Being a star in the NFL doesn’t require being drafted out of college. Some of the most well-known undrafted free agents include Tony Romo, James Harrison, Wes Welker, Adam Vinatieri and Kurt Warner, just to name a few.