Bailey Lands in Prime Time

Finally cleared to meet the press, Tuesday marked the first episode of The Aaron Bailey Show.

CHAMPAIGN - Welcome to the Aaron Bailey Show – the conversation portion of your potential future favorite bit of Illini programming.

To this point the Illinois freshman quarterback had been seen but never heard. Tuesday marked his first appearance for media duty, per the policy of Coach Tim Beckman mandating freshmen staying safely tucked behind the curtain until after Big Ten play.

The delay is probably for the best. Us media people, as most well know, can be very scary people. But you can't keep us and the talent apart forever.

Bailey showed up with the rest of requested players. When reporters and writers and cameraman were finished with Beckman and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, the tunnel vision locked in on the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Bailey.

Starters Ryan Lankford and Simon Cvijanovic laughed and made jokes as media members rushed past them for a prime seat in front of Bailey's stage.

Sorry vets, it's been a long wait to see what the kid looks like without the helmet and pads on.

Camera lights flashed on and the recorders beeped as big red buttons were pressed.

Showtime! Was Bailey ready for this?

"It's fine. It's OK," he said calmly. "I figure obeying coach's rules and waiting until the time is right.

"It's a good opportunity. I thanked God for it. I'm just blessed to be here. It feels good to finally talk to you guys."

And with that, we were off and running. So how does he feel about his play after the first five games?

"It's going well. We are 3 and 2, above .500," he answered, again, calmly. "That's all that matters. If we're winning games I just try and contribute the best way I can."

Oh, here comes the customary inquiry – how has he adjusted to the speed of the college game compared to the high school level he so thoroughly dominated at Bolingbrook High?

"I've adjusted pretty well, I've thought," he said. "In the summertime, that's when I really learned the speed of the game, get the ball out a little quicker, stuff like that. I really learned from the summer. Summer helped me out and then camp. Now I'm playing second nature."

Of his 14 carries this season, three resulted in a touchdown, four others a first down. I tweeted ‘Aaron Be Converting,' after most of his rushes because, well, Aaron does convert quite often.

"I would say I did pretty well for the most part," Bailey says, taking the humble route. "I just go in there and do my job, do what I have to do and week by week just get more and more thrown at me and just try to do my job the best way I can."

Does he think about an increased role? If some is good, isn't more better? How can he lobby for more playing time?

"Just honestly just do my job, just handle it, see what I do last game and keep progressing on that," he answers. "Just keep building and building and trying to contribute as best I can for the team."

Bailey's insertion into games looks seamless. Starter Nathan Scheelhaase has taken essentially every meaningful snap. Bailey waits for his time. Does he know beforehand when Cubit is going to throw the change-up? Actually, Bailey may be the fastball. But still, when does he know?

"Um, I don't know," Bailey says. "I just know you kind of get the sense if it's third and short and that's when I know. He always tells me to be ready, and I wait on the sideline until he calls for the formation and I just go out there and just do my job."

After all the hype and build-up, Bailey had to be nervous when he made his first appearance in the season opener… Right?

"No it was a lot of anticipation," he said. "I was very excited. I thank God for the opportunity to go out there and I was just very excited to get the chance to go out there. It was fun to execute. I honestly didn't want to come out but you know, it feels good to get those jitters out of the way. Now, like I said, I'm playing second nature."

Second nature resulted in a touchdown run in that first game. Two weeks later, he one-upped himself by running 15-yards to the end zone against Washington on a crucial fourth-and-one late in the game. Unlike social settings, everybody likes one-uppers in the football world.

"That was a great feeling," he said of that touchdown against the Huskies. "It was a clutch time in the game. I just tried to execute the play. It was fourth and one. I really wanted to get the first down, and thank God it opened up and I ended up scoring."

So far we've only seen three pass attempts with one completion for three yards. Cubit's offense is varied and at times looks tricky to run. Scheelhaase is a senior. Bailey's only been around since June.

"I'm very comfortable," he says of the offense. "Each week I get better into the offense. I'm learning more and more and I'm just trying to contribute the best way I can. I know the offense pretty well. I'm just learning it day by day as we go, and I'm just loving it.

"Just adding it piece by piece and I'm just learning it. Go through practice and all it takes is the reps. Once you get the reps in you come into game time it just comes second nature. That's all we've been doing, just getting reps and more reps and I've become more comfortable."

It has to help having Scheelhaase around.

"Oh Nate's helped me out tremendous," Bailey confirms. "He's a great teacher. He's a great coach. He's a future coach I see. He's taught me a lot on and off the field. I just can't thank him more."

Given the mob surrounding Bailey during The Show, it's clear he's a move-the-needle-type player, a household name. Is there any animosity in the locker room from lesser-known teammates who contribute more to the outcome of games? After all, a fake Twitter account created in the likeness of Bailey a few months back gathered thousands of followers in a matter of hours. Some starters are scraping by in the low hundreds.

"No it's just messing around like a normal teammate," Bailey says. "I love my teammates. The seniors are great. I feel, you know, even though I've been knowing them a few months I feel like I've been knowing them for about four years. They're some great guys. I love the team. Everybody has a great chemistry on the team."

Well fine, no controversy in this first episode. It must be tiring signing all those autographs while walking around campus though. People probably recognize him.

"Um, no, not really," he said. "Not really. More so they just know by the jersey number."

In case you're looking his favorite spot is Noodles & Company on Green Street. He loves pasta. It gives him energy for all the reps in practice. We're winding down now. The credits are about to roll. How's the whole college experience going?

"I've adjusted well. I love it. I love going to school and going to practice, stuff like that. It's like high school but just a little bit more extra," he said.

And with that, Bailey made it through his first media session. The first of many, it was as if it was second nature.

All the best shows these days come with an after-viewing breakdown. Of course The Aaron Bailey Show is no different.

Lankford turns from wideout to panelist to provide his thoughts on the attention paid to his young peer.

"That's good man. I like Aaron a lot," Lankford said. "He's a young guy and he's really passionate about the game. I think that's something that you've got to enjoy and appreciate as a young guy coming in just wanting to learn. He's comes to me, ‘Hey, Lank,' just asking me about this. ‘Is Nebraska going to be loud? Yeah bro, it's going to be loud, it's going to be a lot of fun.' He's excited. I really like Aaron a lot. He's comes from a great family, a great background, so it's fun. It's nice."

Then Scheelhaase came out, stepping into his usual spotlight to discuss his understudy, saying "the good part about him, he's a mature kid. Comes from an awesome family. Came from a great high school program as well. I think when you have a bunch of those things that really help get you ready for jumping into an environment like this and having that hype and those expectations, it definitely kind of gives him the kind of mindset that he needs to have. I think he's done a great job with that. In all honestly I don't think there's anything that he's done that I wouldn't have done in his position. Really hasn't been anything that I've said or told him. It was the mindset you've got coming into here, and I definitely think his parents did a great job and the high school coaches and people in his life did a great job."

The first game came and successfully went. The first month ended with nothing but a preposterous amount of potential still to be fulfilled. His first Big Ten game didn't work out so well, but he bounced back with a sharp performance against the vaunted media. The Aaron Bailey Show is just beginning. What will happen next? The better question -- what won't happen?


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