MORGANTOWN — Stedman Bailey’s 5-year-old son doesn’t remember much about the day his dad’s life changed forever.
“To this day, I don’t think he really understands what happened to me,” Bailey said. “He remembered me being in the hospital and he was always, ‘Dad, when are you coming home?’ ‘Whenever they let me out.’
“That’s something that I’ll tell him when he gets old — he’s too young to fathom all of that.”
Bailey, a former WVU wide receiver, was shot in the head in a random act of violence in his home state of Florida, in 2015, while riding in a car with his cousin and two others. Three bullets struck him, fracturing his skull but missing his brain.
Hours of surgery saved his life, but it appeared Baley’s football career was finished after two-plus seasons with the then-St. Louis Rams.
Nearly three years later, Bailey participated in WVU’s pro day March 29, at the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility, another step in the process of returning to the NFL.
While Bailey doesn’t think his son will remember the shooting, he will know one thing, regardless of the outcome.
“He’s got a superhero for a dad, and that’s what I aspire to be — a role model for him, first and foremost,” he said.
The journey back has not been easy for Bailey. Although he was running routes just five months after the incident, there was a long road ahead to get medical clearance from doctors to allow contact.
Bailey’s plastic surgeon suggested he get another plate inserted in his skull, not only from a football standpoint, but for his everyday health — in case he were hit in the head because, “I could be looking at a whole other situation.”
Following surgery, which took place in July, Bailey was approved by all of his doctors to attempt an NFL comeback.
“The whole healing process has been very good,” he said. “I’ve been down this road before of facing adversity, so it’s just pushing through it. I have to have a positive mind set that if I set my mind to do something, then I’m going to make it happen.”
During his three-year career with the Mountaineers, from 2010-’12, Bailey put up some of the most prolific receiving stats in school history. He had 210 catches, 3,218 yards and 41 touchdowns — a school record.
Bailey caught 25 touchdowns as a junior, in 2012, the third most in college football history, and finished second in the Biletnikoff voting. He declared early for the NFL draft and was picked by the Rams, in the third round.
As a pro, Bailey caught 59 passes for 843 yards and two touchdowns, while also contributing on special teams.
The summer after the shooting, he was released by the Rams but could work with the team if he chose. Instead, Bailey returned to WVU as a student assistant with the football team, working with wide receivers.
Last fall, he elected for surgery with the intent of playing again. Bailey performed at Marshall’s pro day this month and gave scouts one last look at his alma mater.
“I think it was a great day overall,” he said. “I got a chance to run the 40, and I did really good in the route portion. I was very fluent, and that’s exactly what I wanted to prove to anybody watching.”
Bailey’s official numbers were not made available.
Regardless of what happens, Bailey believes his story can be an inspiration that no matter what hiccups get in someone’s way, he or she can overcome them.
“Once people see how well I’m doing and where my mind set is, they can be inspired by what I’m going through and what I’ve overcome,” he said. “You don’t let people tell you what you can and can’t do. People can be inspired and want to be better for themselves.”