Hot Georgia nights are typical in the southern state. People want to stay indoors on those balmy nights. Not in Folkston, Georgia, however.
The families would gather together on Friday nights and watch their High School football team play.
Charlton County High School turned out some great athletes, almost 50 Division 1 gridiron stars. Names like Larry Smith, Joe Hagins.
But none have made a mark as much as one special player.
His name is Champ Bailey.
Roland Bailey Jr. was born June 22, 1978 and raised in the small town of Folkston (3 stoplight town) throughout his life before college. In 1989, I drove through Folkston. Who would have known that there was an 11 year old football star in the making?
Champ was born of Elaine and Roland Sr.. He was also the 2nd oldest brother of 3. Ronald and Rodney and one sister, Danielle.
His younger brother was Rodney. Mom nicknamed them, though. Roland was called "Champ" while his little brother was named "Boss."
When Champ was still in his teens, his mother separated from Roland Sr. and gained custody and raised the 4 kids on her own. They were great students and athletes which made her job much easier, even though she still was forced to work 2 jobs and raise her children at the same time.
Champ was a gifted athlete in High School. But even at an earlier age, 7th grade to be exact, fans were already dropping word to the University of Georgia about this future prodigy.
Champ went to High School in 1992 and started as the teams quarterback and also as a free safety. He dominated both sides of the ball. He also played basketball in High School for the Indians. He had a 43" vertical leap. He also ran track in the spring. When he was a junior at Charlton, he became Georgia's high jump champion.
When Champ became a senior at Charlton, his coach, Rich McWorter moved Champ to tailback and his little brother Boss, to quarterback.
It didn't take Champ long to gain notice.
In his 1st game as a tailback, Champ ran for over 300 yards and scored 5 touchdowns. Next game, more then 400 yards and 6 touchdowns. He finished the year with 1,858 yards and an incredible 28 touchdowns.
Champ and Boss led the Charlton Indians to an 11-1 record and a regional championship but lost in the state quarterfinals.
Champ went on to play at the University of Georgia with his older brother Ronald in 1996. They played together for the Bulldogs for one year.
Champ played sparingly during his freshman year, mainly on special teams and at the defensive back position. He started his 1st game against Ole Miss (Georgia lost). They finished the season 5-6.
Georgia had players like Terry Hoage and Scott Woerner. They were the names spoken of. Champ was going to make his own mark.
In 1997 he won the starting cornerback spot and never looked back.
Champ was spectacular. He was known for making great open field tackles and had 3 interceptions in 11 games. 1 of those was for a touchdown. He also played wide receiver, catching 12 passes for close to a 20 yard average. He also had kickoff return duties.
Georgia finished the year 9-2, a great improvement over the the previous season. It helped that they had other big names to play for the team. Names like Hines Ward, Orlandis Gary and Matt Stinchcomb.
In 1998 Champ finished the year with 100-yard receiving games against Wyoming, LSU, and Vanderbilt, all victories. He also caught eight passes for 99 yards in a loss to Florida. He ended up with 47 catches, 744 yards and five TDs on offense and three interceptions on defense. He was voted 1st-team all-SEC and was a unanimous All-American. He also won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
Bailey also set a school indoor long jump record in 1998 of 25-10 3/4 feet to finish 3rd at the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships.
At his combine, he ran a 4.28 in the 40. That, my friends, is fast. He also had a 44" vertical jump.
He went on to to get drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1999 in the 1st round (7th overall). He was the 1st player to ever be drafted out of Folkston. Nice job, Champ.
He signed a 5 year, $9.64 million deal with the Redskins, including a $5.2 million signing bonus. Champ had a chance to learn from the best, Deion Sanders and Darrell Green.
In 2006, Champ and the Broncos played the New England Patriots. Bailey broke the record for the longest non-scoring play in NFL history. With the Patriots ready to score, Bailey intercepted a pass thrown by Tom Brady and ran it back 100 yards to the 1 yard line where he was tackled by TE Ben Watson and fumbled out of bounds. Denver went on to score and knock the vaunted Patriots out of the playoffs.
In December of 2006, Denver played the Seahawks and Hasselback never threw to Champ's side, not once during the 1st half. In the 2nd half, Matt tried his luck and paid for it by way of an interception. Nice job again, Champ.
In 2007 he went to the Pro Bowl again, the 8th time in his career. He went from 2000-2007.
In 2008 he was injured with a groin pull that cost him the majority of the season. When he did come back, he made some devastating hits on opposing quarterbacks. Before the injury he was still playing like the shutdown corner we all know. He was shutting down Randy Moss till the injury.
Now everyone is heralding Nnamdi Asomugha as the best corner in football? The guy is great, no doubt. I mean no disrespect though, when I state that you shouldn't lose a spot to injury.
Champ would have made the Pro Bowl again, I am confident, if not for the injury. Suddenly he is no longer considered the best at his position because he got hurt? I think not.
I say he still has what it takes. I say that he will make the Pro Bowl again. I say that he will play at the high caliber play that we expect from him. Play with that chip on his shoulder.
I say he has something to prove.