During the time when Woodland High's campus was closed and gyms across Georgia were shut down due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Wildcats rising senior Nick Bailey knew he had to figure out a way to avoid becoming a couch potato.
Bailey got creative with his workouts, taking matters into his own hands — literally. He went to Lowe's, purchased $80 worth of lumber and thanks to a do-it-yourself video, built his own personal bench on which to do the bench press with his 315 pounds of weights.
“I knew even if we didn’t have a season, the recruiters were not going to stop,” said Bailey, a four-year starter along the defensive line. “They were going to keep coming, keep looking, and I knew that I had to keep my game on. If we had a season, I've got to get prepared for the season, or if not, I still have to stay in shape for college.”
The story makes Wildcats head coach Tony Plott chuckle, but he also believes it showcases the drive Bailey has to be successful — no matter what challenges he may face. Plott also considers Bailey's project a microcosm of the defensive line's massive impact on the team.
“It’s how dedicated he is to it and how important it is to him,” Plott said of Bailey. “That’s the type of leadership we’re getting. We’re getting guys who will stand up and talk in front everybody, but they also do a great job of leading by example. That’s priceless to have someone to do that.”
With players like Bailey and other veterans sprinkled across the defensive front, Plott has heaped praise on the group for the better part of the past three years.
“They’re going to be real big for us,” Plott said of the defensive line. “You’ve got Nick Bailey and Jovani Jacobo anchoring it. You’ll see Jeremiah Rhodes play there some, and you may see Jahseim Henry up there some also as like an outside linebacker.
“They’re the heart of our team. The kids are the leaders in the weight room; they’re the leaders at practice; and they’re fun to have around.”
While the group clearly serves as a consistent positive influence, their ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks and stifle rushing attacks on Friday nights will be a key factor in the success of Woodland's entire defense.
“It helps everywhere,” Plott said. “It helps the secondary, with the coverage, and the linebackers, keeping them protected to have their run fits. It’s huge. It all starts up front. We feel like we’re pretty fortunate that we have a good group there that we’ll benefit from.”
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Bailey welcomes the chance to help Woodland put together a solid season in his swan song. Over the past few years, the Wildcats have had varying levels of success, but the one constant has been a strong defense.
He doesn't expect that aspect to change this year, despite some tough Region 7-AAAAA opponents, including Blessed Trinity and Cartersville.
“We’ve had a really strong defense all four years of me being here,” Bailey said. “Our defense has always shined and performed on Friday nights. We’ve been well known for our defense. It’s really good that we can end on the same level that we’ve been competing at.”
A decent portion of that defensive success can be contributed to Bailey. He's able to dominate weaker opposition, while occupying multiple blockers against even the best teams.
“I’m just going to have to take on double-teams about every play, which I’m fine with, because I’m good at that,” Bailey said. “Hopefully, I can take more linemen off the other guys, so they get to make the plays and get their names in the paper.”
One of those teammates hoping to get some of the recognition is Jacobo.
Listed at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, the fellow rising senior looks like a near physical carbon copy of Bailey — particularly when the two are wearing matching shirts and shorts at practice. The most glaring difference between the two is Jacobo's long hair spilling out of his helmet.
“We’ve been friends since as long as I can remember at this point,” Jacobo said of Bailey. “We have good chemistry. We work together really well. Having him is really fun, because I know he’s going to take on the biggest dudes on the line most of the time, and I’m going to be freed up with some of the smaller dudes.”
Overall, the unit will be held to a lofty standard this season. If there's any pressure, Bailey and Jacobo aren't showing it.
Maybe it's because having gone through a coronavirus-induced shutdown followed by a restriction-laden summer — all the while not knowing if there would be a football season — has made them excited more than anything.
“That’s one of the reasons we’ve hoped and prayed for us to be able to play this season,” Plott said, “so that these kids can go out there to show the development they’ve had, how much they’ve matured and to be able to have fun.
“That’s what we want them to be able to do to showcase their talents.”