ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – When the final Missouri Western State University football spring scrimmage ended last Friday, three individuals were immediately sought out by the media – head coach Matt Williamson, freshman running back James Bailey and Bailey’s high school coach Scorpio Horn, who now coaches the Griffons’ defensive line.
Bailey, who had been a redshirt freshman at Western Illinois University, left that program to be reunited with Horn in St. Joseph. And from all indications last Friday, it was a move that will benefit all three individuals as The Examiner’s 2016 Offensive Player of the Year carried the ball 11 times for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
While Williamson talked about Bailey with one group of reporters, a few others approached Horn.
“Ain’t no way I’m talking ‘bout James Bailey,” Horn bellowed as he cast a quick wink and smile in Bailey’s direction. “I coached him in high school – and I’m through with him! Did you see what he did to my defense tonight? I’m done with James Bailey!”
The energetic Horn then cracked up, and got serious as he talked about the young man who made such an impact in the recent turnaround at Chrisman and the role he believes Bailey will play for the Griffons.
“I have so much respect for that young man,” Horn said. “I love him like a son. I talk to him about babysitting my kids. Do you think I’d talk to him about babysitting my little ones if I didn’t love and trust him? And he is a player! He proved that tonight and has proved it ever since he stepped foot on this campus.”
Williamson, who was named the sixth head football coach in Griffons history in 2016, said he knew Bailey would fit into his plans the first time they met.
“When I recruit a player, I look for certain traits – his work ethic, personality, his ability to compete on the field and in the classroom, his ability to be a good teammate. And if I find a player with one or two of those traits I’m interested,” he said. “James possesses all of those traits and you saw what he did tonight. We believe he’s going to be a great addition to our football program and our university.”
It took Bailey a while to get going in the scrimmage as he carried the ball four times for 19 yards in the first half.
He exploded for two touchdowns and 119 yards in the second half and had runs of 26, 37 and 32 yards.
“Before the game, I was sitting in our locker room, putting on my jersey, and it just felt so special to be putting on a jersey again knowing that I was going to be able to play,” said Bailey, who was part of the scout team at Western Illinois. “Things just didn’t work out at Western Illinois, and when Scorpio called me and asked me to come to Missouri Western, I got real excited. A lot of my friends asked me about going from a Division I school (Western Illinois is an FCS school) to Missouri Western and I just tell them it’s all football – and I want to play.”
Bailey, who is 6-foot and 210 pounds, powered his way through the Griffons defensive line and was usually gang-tackled.
“He’s so big and strong,” Williamson said. “You’re not going to be able to arm tackle him. We found that out tonight. And he’s just a freshman. I don’t think he knows how good he can be.”
He was a one-man wrecking crew for the most successful Bears team in school history back in 2016.
Bailey, playing quarterback, finished his remarkable senior season with 1,549 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns on 202 carries (a 7.7-yard average). He also completed 48 of 121 passes for 907 yards and eight touchdowns while leading the Bears to their first conference title since 1963 and their first winning season since 1981. He earned Class 5 all-state honors from the Missouri Football Coaches Association and was named a semifinalist for the Simone Award, which goes to the top player in the metro area.
“I had a lot of success in high school and think I can be successful in college ball, too,” Bailey said as he little brother grabbed his helmet and put it on, much to the delight of Bailey’s other siblings. “I love Mo West. It’s close to home, so my family can come see me play, Scorpio and I grew up together at Chrisman – me as a player and a man and him as a coach and a mentor – and I think this program is going to do something special. And I want to be a part of it – a big part of it!”