Meet Harrison Bailey, the 15-Year-Old QB Who Made Cam Newton's Jaw Drop

Sanjay Kirpalani@@SanjayKirpalaniNational Recruiting AnalystJanuary 25, 2017

2020 QB Harrison Bailey had nine offers before he ever threw a pass on the high school level.
2020 QB Harrison Bailey had nine offers before he ever threw a pass on the high school level.Credit: Junior Baker

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had heard the stories about Harrison Bailey. But when Newton saw him in person for the first time last Memorial Day at his foundation's 7-on-7 tournament in Atlanta, he was nonetheless floored.

This kid is how old?

Newton had to meet him.

As you'd imagine, when the reigning NFL MVP walks up to a 14-year-old quarterback to talk football, it causes a stir. It's the type of thing onlookers remember.

"That happened right in front of me," says Erik Richards, the national recruiting director for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, who had a front-row seat for the exchange.

"So you're the eighth-grader that everyone has been talking about?" Newton asked Bailey in disbelief.

Bailey, who was busy dissecting teams loaded with talented soon-to-be juniors and seniors, calmly replied, "Yes, sir."

"He told me, 'You're pretty good, but you got to keep working to get better week in and week out,'" Bailey remembers.

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"There was some heat there that weekend," Richards recalls. "You had guys like [5-star Stanford quarterback commit] Davis Mills, [5-star Georgia quarterback commit] Jake Fromm and other studs out there.

"Cam walked up to [Bailey] and couldn't believe the kid was about to be a freshman."

He's not the first to be astonished by where Bailey's at in his development.

Before Bailey ever threw a pass on the prep level, his name was already buzzing as a potential future star at the most important position on the field.

Programs such as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee verbally offered him scholarships before the season.

"I've been really trying to stay humble about it," Bailey, who turned 15 in November, says of the growing college interest in him. "Every college that offers me, I just say thank you and I just try to keep working hard and stay on my own path."

Now, he's delivering on that lofty promise as a freshman at Marietta High School in the Metro Atlanta area.

As Scout's Chad Simmons has detailed, Bailey—who reports a 3.7 GPA—is already breaking school records and putting up eye-popping numbers. He finished his freshman season having thrown for 2,812 yards and 21 touchdowns with only seven interceptions, according to MaxPreps.

But how has Bailey arrived on the radar of college coaching royalty such as Alabama head coach Nick Saban, and why is he poised to become the next star in a growing line of passers who hail from the Peach State?

Tony Ballard, a noted quarterback trainer in the Atlanta area, has worked with Bailey since he was in the fifth grade.

It didn't take long for Ballard—who also trained touted quarterback prospects such as current Oklahoma QB Austin Kendall, current Tennessee passer Jarrett Guarantano and Mills, among others—to realize Harrison was a gifted pupil. His physical gifts stood out immediately, but it was his football intelligence that left the biggest impression on Ballard.

"I've seen a lot of kids his age that don't really understand the game like he does," Ballard says. "I think Harrison is two to three years ahead of his time.

"When you think of elite quarterbacks, you can look across the country at the guys who are coming out of high school. ... The best guys are the ones that are ahead of their time. That's how they separate themselves from the average quarterbacks. That's where Harrison is. In terms of his mental aspect, he's just advanced for his age."

Mills, who is the top quarterback and the No. 6 player overall in the 2017 class, agreed with that sentiment.

"I am impressed by how mature he is already. He'll make a small mistake on one ball, and on the next throw it'll already be fixed," Mills says. "To be able to self-correct and not hang your head is something he is very good at."

Richards became familiar with Bailey in his middle school years after seeing him at various camps. After Bailey hit a growth spurt around his seventh-grade year, he earned a trip to the FBU All-American Bowl.

Richards notes that Bailey compares favorably to Mills in one important area that is likely to benefit him as he continues to face better competition.

"You see a lot of the same attributes in Harrison that you saw in Davis, as far as pre-snap read," Richards says. "That's something Tony instills in them. [Tony] will spend as much time with his guys in the film room during a workout session as he does on the field."

Rusty Mansell, a recruiting analyst for 247Sports, has been covering recruiting in the state of Georgia for nearly a decade. Like Richards, he's witnessed Bailey's rise from the middle school ranks.

Similar to Bailey's first impression on Newton, Mansell recalls the first time he knew Bailey had a chance to be a special player.

After competing in the FBU National Championship in San Antonio last January, Bailey was invited to the combine at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Richards and Mansell were among those present as players such as current Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason and current Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks were getting their hands measured.

Mansell recalled that Eason and Franks measured in "around 9 ½ or 9 ¾."

For comparison, the top two overall selections in last April's NFL draft were Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. Goff's hands measured in at 9 ⅛ inches and Wentz at 10 inches, as detailed by the Indianapolis Star's Laken Litman, previously of For The Win.

Bailey, then 14 years old, had hands that measured almost 11 inches.

"We were all looking at each other like, 'Wait a minute!'" Mansell says. "You start talking about hand size and how he's able to spin the ball—that was the first indicator to me that this kid is different."

Mansell notes that he's witnessed former star recruits and current NFL standouts such as Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche and Derrick Henry in high school. He's not easily impressed when it comes to the hype some prospects build up early in their prep careers.

Still, after observing Bailey up close in a hard-fought, 21-14 loss to Lassiter High School on Sept. 16, Mansell was stunned with what he saw from the freshman passer.

"I was pretty shocked, to be honest, after watching him in an entire game," Mansell says. "He wasn't just making his first read. He wasn't making the second read. He was going through his progressions. He was making the right throws against blitzes. I'm good friends with the head coach who faced him that night. We talked the next week, and he felt the same way I did. He didn't think he was going to be that good. But he's scary good as a freshman."

Marietta head coach Rich Morgan—who is in his first year leading the Blue Devils program—says he knew what type of talent he had on his hands with Bailey from the team's first practice in the summer.

Bailey quickly won over his teammates with his talent, ability and work ethic.

"The biggest adjustment would have to be getting the ball out on time and making the smart decision when things break down," Bailey says. "That's what I've learned and tried to focus on."

Morgan insists he never had a conversation with Bailey about age or becoming a leader. Instead, he cites his composure as the biggest trait that has helped him find success so quickly.

"He doesn't act like he's [15] years old. He performs like he's a senior who has done this for nearly four years already," Morgan says. "If you watch us play and didn't already know he was a freshman before the game, you wouldn't be able to tell when the game starts."

Assuming he continues to develop and refine his skill set, Mansell feels like Bailey can follow a similar path to fellow Peach State phenom and 2018 5-star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who is the top overall prospect in the 2018 cycle.

Bailey already has college-ready size at 6'4", 203 pounds. He won't be labeled a dual-threat quarterback, but as Richards points out, he's athletic enough to make plays when he is forced out of the pocket.

Bailey—who said he grew up watching current UCLA star quarterback Josh Rosen—is clearly on the radar of college coaches from coast to coast.

One Power Five coach who is recruiting Bailey told Bleacher Report what impresses him the most about his game:

"Spins it. Love his release. Quick. Arm looks strong. Aggressive let-'er-rip mentality."

During the 2016 season, Bailey took unofficial trips to see Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Tennessee in action.

But while recruiting is bound to explode for Bailey, Morgan is confident his star pupil can handle the spotlight that comes with the hype—mainly because he still works and trains with the mindset of a player who wants to be the best at his craft.

"I think Harrison would be the first one to tell you that he hasn't achieved any of the goals he set out for himself, regardless of the fact that he's been playing well," Morgan says. "Those things are still in the future, so he keeps working towards them. He's still hungry for more. That's what separates the good ones from the great ones."

With more than three years remaining until he steps foot on a college campus, the buzz surrounding Harrison Bailey only figures to increase as he progresses through his prep career.

If his ability to make a lasting first impression is any indicator, he's on the fast track toward becoming the next big thing in the recruiting world.

Morgan admits college coaches are already peppering him with questions about Bailey.

Their queries aren't about his gaudy statistics or physical traits. Instead, they are mostly about Bailey's intangible qualities.

Is he a leader and a guy that people can rally behind?

Does he have a good head on his shoulders?

Is this a guy who can be the face of our football program in the future?

Morgan has seen enough to provide them with assurance.

"My endorsement is with 100 percent certainty, yes," Morgan says. "He can do that because I'm seeing him do it now. As he gets older, I think it will be a natural progression for him.

"The sky is the limit for him. It's not just because of his arm; it's because of his makeup, his mind and his hunger to get better."


Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand, and all recruiting information courtesy of Scout.com.