Two Lions corners to sign with Division I schools.
By PETER STEIN
April 30, 2014
Feb 04, 2015
SPARTA — The Division I college football ranks will soon add two good cornerbacks.
Pope John senior Austin Bailey committed last week to Sacred Heart of Fairfield, Conn., and fellow Lions senior Drew Daniel to Marist College of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Each player will make it official today — National Signing Day — when each puts his name on a letter of intent.
Daniel is a longtime defensive back, landing on the 2014 All-Herald Football first-team defense for his three interceptions (including one returned for a score), two forced fumbles, 13 pass break-ups and 55 tackles.
Bailey played some defensive back, but is best known for scorching them. Though he was a DB in his freshman season at Pope John, and started there as a two-way senior player in 2014, he was an All-Herald first-teamer for offense last year, after reeling in 30 catches for 490 yards and seven scores.
Bailey will now make the switch to full-time defensive back, a full-time Division I college defensive back.
“I think it's going to be exciting, it's going to be a challenge,” Bailey said, “because I'm a little further behind than a lot of other DBs who have been playing for four years. But they (Sacred Heart) said I'm athletic, I have the skill set, I have good size. So I'm looking forward to the challenge. I'm looking forward to going up there and contributing any way I can.”
Pope John head coach Brian Carlson is confident in Bailey's ability to become a solid full-time corner. “An intelligent player, hard-working guy,” Carlson said. “Most of our guys don't play both ways until their senior year, if that. We needed help (at defensive back). He's athletic and he did pretty well. So they (the Pioneers) need corners and they're really expecting him to play.”
Bailey joins Jake Davis, a 2014 Sparta graduate and 2013 All-Herald Football first-teamer, on the Sacred Heart team. Davis was a linebacker for the Pioneers last fall, and part of Sparta's state championship team a year earlier.
Daniel joins four local players — linebacker Jim Braun from Lenape Valley; tight end Zach Passerelle from Sparta; and offensive linemen Seamus Ryan and Ryan Walsh from Pope John — on the Marist team. Daniel says his former teammates Ryan and Walsh influenced his decision somewhat. “When I went there (to Marist), they were following me everywhere I went, trying to get me to commit to their school,” Daniel recalled. “And I guess it worked.”
Daniel was the reverse of Bailey — he's a defensive back who saw quality time at receiver last season. “He's versatile,” Carlson said of Daniel. “We had him on the offensive side of the ball, the slot. We played him at strong safety midway through the year. People like that about him. ... So he's a guy they (the Red Foxes) feel can get on the field at multiple positions.”
Daniel thinks Marist will provide a good fit for his skills. “They play a lot of zone,” he said. “I'm more of a zone player than a man player, believe it or not. I like how they play corners, how you can read coverages and read receivers, all that stuff. So I like their zone coverage a lot.”
Both players found the schools to their liking overall.
“A lot of people say ‘family atmosphere'; it's kind of cliche. But I really felt like there was a family atmosphere there,” Daniel said of Marist. “They really welcomed me and they really wanted me. So it felt like the right fit for me.”
“I went up there ... and I really got to know the coaches and the players,” Bailey said of Sacred Heart, “and I really got to see the direction that the program was going, and I just fell in love with the program. Also, the campus is beautiful. And it's a great school academically. They really look out for their players and they look out for you more as a student.”
Bailey wasn't surprised by how he was recruited. “I knew that some schools would look at me as a defensive back more than as a wide receiver, so I was open to it,” he said. “And whatever opportunity was best for me, I was going to take, whether it was offense or defense.”
Getting his big chance at the latter means Bailey will need a new approach. “I'm going to have to change,” he said. “I'm going to have to be more aggressive, get used to the hitting more. As a wide receiver, you're trying to dodge everybody. But as a DB, you've got to come up, you've got to fill holes, you've got to be aggressive and you've got to be tough.”
Bailey thinks his wide receiver experience will help him as a Division I college defensive back, “because I'll be able to catch on to some of the wide receivers' tendencies, what they're trying to do,” he said.
Today, both players have arrived as Division I collegiates. For Carlson, days like today are a big part of what makes coaching worthwhile. He is kind of like a proud papa, seeing the first players who were freshmen on his first Pope John team in 2011 earn D-I scholarships.
“Yeah, it's exciting,” Carlson said. “It's exciting for the kids and for the families. A lot of people put in a lot of work behind the scenes — the guidance counselors, the faculty, the staff. So it's really a school effort, And obviously, the players have to have the skills and good character, which they do. But having all the people behind them really helps.”
Both players are thankful for all that, and for what they learned at Pope John.
“I think I learned to mature,” said Daniel, who plans to major in Criminal Justice. “When you're a young guy here, you don't really want to work. You just follow what they (the older players) do, what the seniors do. And you really learn to work hard and appreciate what you're doing.”
“I've learned from the past four years to keep working hard and keep overcoming obstacles,” said Bailey, who is undecided on a major but is leaning toward Business. “You're going to face a lot of adversity, but you've got to just keep your head down, keep working. You've just got to stay on task.”