MORGANTOWN — Hakeem Bailey was thrown into the fire during his first season with the WVU football team last season.
Coming from Iowa Western Community College, Bailey came into a situation at cornerback where the Mountaineers needed the position filled with their top three graduating.
That gave Bailey an opportunity to play right away, and it ended with mixed results. There were great moments, such as helping defend critical downs late in the win against Iowa State. And then there were bad moments, where Bailey continually got beat by some of the best offenses in the Big 12.
“I had some ups and downs last year, but it made me a better player,” he said.
Bailey started a lot of games early in the season, but was downgraded to a role player as it went on, being replaced by Elijah Battle and Mike Daniels. However, in a backup role, Bailey started to thrive off the bench.
Making the jump from junior college to Division I was a big leap that he wasn’t completely prepared for the jump in talent, but as the game slowed down, the easiest it started to get.
“The hardest part was the transition,” Bailey said. “Coming from a JUCO, everything here is faster and better competition. Then, the easiest part was running the defense and getting comfortable in it. I knew it was going to be tough at first, but once I learned the defense and everything I fit in.
“There were ups and downs and it made me who I am today. It humbled me some more and so I am ready for the season.”
And the Mountaineers will need Bailey more this year than last. He’s now the most experienced cornerback in a group full of attrition and transition.
Bailey tops the spring depth chart, along with rising sophomore Derrek Pitts, who moved from safety to cornerback this offseason. Others in position to play are Keith Washington, Josh Norwood, Sean Mahone and Jake Long.
Of those, Bailey is the only one with significant playing time with the Mountaineers.
“Hakeem has played the most — he’s gotten better fundamentally and with technique,” cornerbacks coach Doug Belk said. “For Hakeem, I base everything that we do off competition. I want the guys to be consistent, so the expectations are high for him, but he has to win the job and continue to be successful every day and compete at a high level. If he does that, then he’ll be in a good position. If he doesn’t, all those other guys want to play, too.”