Sterling Bailey stood at the 50-yard line inside Valhalla Stadium, looking up at the East Hall faithful as they cheered him on and at his family members next to him. It was a feeling as surreal as it was familiar for Bailey, who was officially inducted into the East Hall Hall of Fame Friday evening before the game against Chestatee, his jersey number retired by the Vikings football team.
Bailey had gotten used to the roars of this particular crowd during his high school days, but this time it was all the more special.
“So many different emotions come to mind,” Bailey said. “I never imagined something like this would happen. Being recognized as one of the best to come out of East Hall, it’s truly an honor. I don’t have any words for it.”
Bailey’s commitment to East Hall has never been questioned.
After four successful seasons playing defense end for the Vikings, Bailey was invited to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl as a senior. He was tabbed as a three-star recruit coming out of high school, and accepted an offer to play for the University of Georgia.
By his senior year, Bailey had worked his way into a prominent role with the Bulldogs, notching 46 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and a sack in his final collegiate campaign. But even in his Georgia days, Bailey always kept the memories made at East Hall close at hand, even returning once during his redshirt junior season with the Bulldogs to give a pregame speech to the Vikings football team. His inclusion into the East Hall Hall of Fame has made those memories even more sweet.
“It means the world to me,” Bailey said. “Being able to be inducted into the East Hall Hall of Fame is truly an honor, truly a blessing. I just want to thank God for giving me this opportunity.”
Since leaving Georgia after the 2015 season, Bailey has bounced around a number of NFL teams, making stops with the Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers and most recently the Arizona Cardinals.
Bailey was released by the Cardinals this year during the last round of cuts the week before the start of the NFL season.
Even still, Bailey said he remains optimistic and persistent in his plans to play football professionally.
Bailey did not need a reminder of how much he loved the game of football, but Friday’s pregame ceremony served as a motivational moment all the same. And while he is not currently with a professional team, Bailey said he has no plans of giving up his dream.
“As long as the love of football is in my heart, I’m still going to continue chasing my dream (of playing pro football),” he said. “I’m still going to continue to go out there. Whatever God has next for me, that’s basically it.”