We saw flashes this season, but we’ve only scratched the surface of what 2020 Rice Football Rising Star Jake Bailey will do in his career at South Main.
Jake Bailey’s commitment was announced in the middle of the 2018 Early Signing Period. The Owls’ had already amassed what looked to be a strong class in the months and weeks prior to the faxes rolling in, but the class didn’t have a marquee name just yet. Then Bailey’s signature, and subsequent announcement, became official.
The highest-rated Rice signee under Mike Bloomgren at the time, the two-way athlete was heavily sought after by the offensive and defensive coaches. The offense won out, and Bailey suited up with the wide receivers to begin his Rice career. He worked diligently, learning behind Austin Trammell and Bradley Rozner, two all-conference caliber players.
Before the 2020 season, wide receiver’s coach Mike Kershaw called Bailey “a guy that we’ve got to get on the field more and get him some more touches.” When fall camp eventually commenced, Blomgren himself singled out the young receiver: “Jake Bailey is becoming somebody the quarterbacks trust completely.”
It was hard to go a day at camp without someone mentioning the potential of number 11. Whether a coach or player, everyone was pointing to the work Bailey had done in the offseason and heaping praise and expectations on his shoulders for the season to come.
When the games arrived, Rozner had since been injured and opted out. The rest of the receiving room was riddled with bumps and bruises. Rather than splitting reps with Austin Trammell in the slot, Bailey was forced to the outside. The 5-foot-10 wideout played out of position for almost the entirety of the season. And he still led all wideouts in receptions.
“I feel like my development has been at a good pace,” Bailey said midseason. He’d seen his receptions trend upward in three straight games and scored in consecutive games for the first time in his career.
When Trammell was injured and forced to miss the final two contests, any pretense of easing Bailey into the offense went out the window. He became the go-to guy, setting career-high marks for receptions in back-t0-back weeks. He barely missed out on a touchdown on a goal line stretch against Marshall. A kick return touchdown was taken off the board against North Texas the week prior. Whether the plays counted or not, Bailey became the explosive playmaker the Owls needed.
2020 was meant to be the year the proverbial training wheels came off and Bailey’s potential was realized. When the season played out the way it did, those expectations were strained, but not removed.
With the game on the line against UAB, Bailey was the trusted outlet. He was peppered with targets, almost willing the Owls down the field himself for a hail mary heave.
Bailey was gritty and dependable. He was effective at all levels of the field, and he did it with his head down, ready and willing to work. The box scores in a shortened season don’t boast overwhelming totals. The negated plays that were inches away from going the other way don’t help the numbers either. But the player that Bailey became was irrevocably better than the version of himself he was the year prior. And he looked pretty good then.
Still, with only five games played, Bailey and the Rice offense remain somewhat of a mystery. What this unit can be, and what Bailey can help lead it to be, remain an expectant vision. By the time the 2021 season rolls around, Bailey will be entering his third year in the offense. He’ll have 32 receptions, two touchdowns and thousands of reps under his belt. His ceiling is sky-high.
Last year, De’Braylon Carroll earned this award. He delivered on those expectations by becoming a fixture in one of the most disruptive defensive interiors in the conference. He and Elijah Garcia made running the football up the middle a tough sell against some of the most productive rushers they faced.
Bailey’s growth has been notable. His potential remains as high as it’s ever been. The Owls need someone to continue to push the offense to new heights. Bailey can be that guy.