The glue guy for a revamped offensive attack, Jake Bailey’s consistency and big-play ability led to him being named our 2021 Rice Football Team MVP.
There are countless ways to determine what “most valuable player” actually means. Raw numbers tell one story. Anecdotes and narrative can tell another. Then there’s that feeling on one’s gut. The kind one gets when you just know that one particular player contributes more to his team than one can distill down into one statistic or any singular storyline. For Rice football in 2021, the answer to all of those questions was Jake Bailey.
In modern football, MVP honors seemingly always default to quarterbacks. Rice had four different signal-callers appear in crucial moments this season. Wiley Green won the biggest game. Jake Constantine won the most. Luke McCaffrey and TJ McMahon accounted for perhaps the most improbable comeback.
But the only unifying factor among those four passers was the constant churn. In large part because of injuries, no one player in that room consistently put the team on his back every single week and found ways to will them to victories. Jake Bailey did.
Despite being knocked out of the UTEP game in the second half and missing the finale against Louisiana Tech entirely, Bailey still led all Rice pass-catchers in receiving yardage. He scored twice and had on remarkable endzone grab that would have been a touchdown called back by a questionable penalty. The raw numbers were good, really good.
When those catches game were perhaps even more important. Bailey led all Rice players in third-down receptions (17) and third-down receiving yards (209). He caught five passes on fourth down. All five moved the sticks, including a diving 36-yard stretch on a scramble from Constantine to help Rice mount a fourth-quarter comeback bid.
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It probably shouldn’t be surprising Bailey became the focal point of the Rice offense. Head coach Mike Bloomgren noted Bailey was “becoming somebody the quarterbacks trust completely” in the early portions of fall camp, adding that Bailey was the kind of player that was always “finding a way to get open.”
There was a period of time when the Jake-to-Jake connection between Constantine and Bailey was the most productive dynamic on the entire roster. With Constantine at the controls and the pocket wavering, he’d often roll out and immediately fix his eyes on Bailey, who was seemingly always ready to make a play and move the sticks.
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That almost innate connection is part of what Bailey so effective on the gridiron. “It was never scripted,” Bailey said of one such schoolyard play. “There’s no formula for it, but it’s always great when it can work out and be something big.”
Big might be the perfect word to describe the size at which Bailey played. Standing 5-foot-10, there were only five players on the roster with a listed height shorter than Bailey. Yet Bailey never let that stop him. If anything, his stature aided his quickness and made him just that more difficult to bring down in the open field.
Bailey is one of the most dynamic playmakers Rice football has at its disposal, and the talented wideout still has two more seasons of eligibility remaining. As a redshirt sophomore, he’s taken home our Rice Football Team MVP honors. The rise of Jake Bailey might only be beginning. Those are some lofty expectations, but Bailey says he’s ready to embrace them.
“When there’s pressure in the situation that means you’re doing something important. That means you’re doing something where people have to look at you, expect from you. It’s always a great place to be. I think pressure is a privilege,” he said. Here’s to seeing where that pressure leads him in 2022 and beyond.