MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University football fans have been waiting for an unforgettable play from Hakeem Bailey since he arrived in Morgantown, and on Saturday the senior cornerback delivered.
Bailey got a late break but recovered in time to get in front of Kansas State receiver Dalton Schoen to pluck a Skylar Thompson pass toward the end zone from the air late in the fourth quarter, putting an end to K-State’s comeback hopes and West Virginia’s five-game losing streak.
Make no mistake, Bailey — who is originally from Atlanta and attended Iowa Western Community College for two seasons before joining the Mountaineers as a transfer — has been solid for West Virginia this season. He’ll play his final game at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday when WVU hosts No. 22 Oklahoma State for Senior Day in Morgantown (noon on ESPN2).
Listed at an even 6-foot and 188 pounds, Bailey has been WVU’s most consistent defensive back — both in his level of play on the field and his ability to stay healthy and actually on the field.
He leads the Mountaineers with eight pass break ups in 2019. The interception against K-State was his first of the season, but the Mountaineers have not been especially great in that department with just six total interceptions on the season.
Still, Bailey becoming the fourth West Virginia player to pick off a pass this season couldn’t have come at a better time for the Mountaineers.
“He’s a consistent worker,” first-year WVU cornerbacks coach Jahmile Addae said. “The one thing about Hakeem that we talk about as a staff is that he’s never on the list — he’s never being called out for the wrong things. He’s always a guy who consistently comes and shows up and works.
“We put our GPS systems on our guys, and he’s consistently one of the highest outputs. For a guy who needs to get better, that’s the only thing you can do — continue to work at your craft, and hats off to him that he has consistently done that as long as I’ve had him.”
Bailey joined the Mountaineers for the 2017 season as a redshirt sophomore and it didn’t take long for him to find the field for playing time. He appeared in 11 games that season and started three times. Last season, as a junior, Bailey played in 12 games with six starts at cornerback and grabbed, prior to the K-State game, the only interception of his WVU career in a win against Kansas in Morgantown.
Remember, however, that WVU’s defense in 2017 and 2018 was terrible at stopping the pass — culminating in the shootout loss against Oklahoma the day after Thanksgiving last year to officially end West Virginia’s Big 12 title hopes. Bailey played a good bit on both of those teams, and was on the field for his fair share of breakdowns in the secondary.
So far in 2019, however, Bailey has been one of the few consistent pieces of the Mountaineer secondary. He has been on the field for the majority of West Virginia’s defensive snaps, minus most of the second half against Texas and the first half the following week against Iowa State for a targeting penalty.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how he has played this season,” Addae, who played at West Virginia from 2001 through 2005, said. “Obviously, not everything has been perfect but he has made some pretty big strides and I’m happy for him.
“I have followed over the years even though I didn’t coach here, obviously having played here. So I did get a chance to see a little bit of the rocky roads as he started. But, again, he’s a senior who has played a lot of meaningful football. He’s done a good job of taking coaching and structure, and he’s reaping the benefits of that right now.”