Friday Night Hero: A.L. Brown’s Tavis Bailey
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS ó A.L. Brown right guard Tavis Bailey finally got the braces off Tuesday afternoon.
Not off his knees.
Off his teeth.
The 252-pound Bailey’s incisors, cuspids and bicuspids have been a work in progress. Just like Brown’s young football team.
“I’ve worn those braces since February of my sophomore year,” said the senior, licking his tongue across movie-star-straight molars. “I feel smooth.”
All Wonders who aren’t coaches are smoothly smiling like they’ve just had braces removed.
Teens live in the moment, and the Wonders (2-1) are practically floating after a 34-28 road win at Thomasville. It was a vital victory morale-wise heading into a bye week.
Coaches remain grim, glum and grouchy. They realize how much growing this young team must do to be a factor in November ó much less December.
It was a game that appeared hopeless at halftime, with Brown down 14 points, unable to contain Thomasville and struggling to move the ball. The Wonders had a meager 68 rushing yards after two quarters.
Coaches got animated at the half. Bailey, one of a handful of veterans, is normally unflappable, but he raised his voice. It was time to lead a little bit.
“I did get a little vocal,” Bailey admitted. “All I said was we had to take it to ’em. We lost to South Rowan because we weren’t as physical as we usually are. Against Thomasville, we weren’t being as physical as we needed to be. But we are always a second-half team no matter whose stadium we’re in. Did we still believe we could win? Yes. We always believe we will win.”
Bailey, a stellar student whose schedule includes Honors Physics, AP English and Honors Stats, huddled with offensive line coach Todd Hagler seeking data. Bailey always asks questions. His most urgent regarded how to block linebackers as fast as Thomasville’s.
“Tavis makes mistakes, he’s not perfect, but he’s trying to be,” Hagler said. “It’s amazing when we watch film. Whatever we’ve told him to adjust, he’s immediately trying to fix it.”
Bailey and his linemates got a lot fixed in the second half. Brown backs Travis Riley and Antwoine Jordan tried to slither through cracks in the first half, but they crashed through legit holes in the second.
“Tavis understands how to finish a block,” Hagler said. “He graded high, was way up there Friday in pancakes and knockdowns. He’ll get beat occasionally, but when it happens it’s because someone out-athleted him, not because he was out of position. We haven’t had one like him in a long time. He’s our best guard. He’d be our best center. He’d be our best tackle. I guess if we put him out at tight end …”
You get the idea.
The Xs and Os adjustment Brown made in the second half was increasing the tempo. The Wonders got plays off quicker. That kept Thomasville in one basic defense.
Brown pounded out 146 rushing yards in the second half and rattled off 20 unanswered points.
“As quick as Thomasville was, we found out if we got on them we could throw them around a little bit,” Bailey said cheerfully.
Coaches still grit their teeth through film study. So many mistakes. So many young guys. But Friday’s win was one to build on.
“We coulda griped and moaned and we coulda quit at halftime,” Hagler said. “Our kids didn’t panic.”