first_imgSide by side, Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey identified their victim. Two running backs with antithetical compositions shared the same mantra day in and day out. It was the game within the practice. The former — an elephantine 220-pound wrecking ball. The latter — a 5-foot-7, 192-pound change of pace. Though they were physical opposites, Syracuse’s one-two punch for the 2010 season worked together to prey on over-exuberant defenders in practice. ‘We went for somebody every day,’ said Carter, who is now with the Indianapolis Colts. ‘Whoever is howling the most on defense. Whoever kind of gets excited and messes up the huddle, we go for them. We kill the head and let the body die.’ The pair took turns taking shots at the defense. ‘Handing ‘em out,’ as Bailey put it, sparing no one.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text On the field, Carter assumed the starting role for the Orange, with Bailey playing the part of backup and little brother. Carter bludgeoned his way to an impressive 1,233 yards rushing, nine touchdowns and a Pinstripe Bowl MVP award. ‘With Delone you knew right where it was going,’ SU offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. ‘He was going to get you five (yards), and I can’t ask for anything more.’ He carried the offense his final two years at Syracuse, personifying the smash-mouth disposition of new head coach Doug Marrone, a former offensive lineman for the Orange. But with Carter’s graduation in May, the role of the starter fell onto Bailey. It is his first chance to be the guy for the Orange. Naturally, questions pour in as the team readies itself to compete for the Big East title. Can a running back this small possibly carry an offense? Can he stay healthy and endure the pounding of a full 12-game season? Can he be productive enough to lead a Carter-less rushing attack? ‘I know I can play with these guys, for one,’ Bailey said. ‘But just proving everybody wrong and being in the underdog role, it’s something I’ve been in my whole life.’ For Bailey, the 2011 season represents the chance every running back hopes for. He has spent the last three years studying the game and packing on muscle. He enters the season at 5-foot-7, 198 pounds. Short but not small. With a lot to prove. ‘A lot of people are not going to expect him to come up the middle and hit you in the mouth,’ Carter said. ‘And Antwon will definitely do that.’ ••• Five days a week the alarm went off at 3 a.m. Antwon, his brother, his two cousins and his uncle, James Johnson, got out of bed and headed to the Prince George’s County Police Department. Monday through Friday, Johnson, a police officer, took the four boys to the basketball gym at the station. And every morning from 3:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. they worked out before school. The boys were all within three years in age — between 14 and 17. Workouts began the summer before Antwon entered high school. His brother, Gregory, was already the starting tailback at Fairmont Heights High School. Johnson’s two sons played football at St. John’s College High School — where Antwon became a star — and Johnson himself was an assistant coach with the team. ‘I wanted to find a way to get more work with them during the day before school,’ Johnson said. ‘And the only way I could it was to get into that police gym.’ He designed workouts to incorporate track and field elements — resistance running, conditioning drills and footwork exercises, all before the crack of dawn and almost always in an empty gym. ‘They would hear little creaks in the floor and they would get scared,’ Johnson said. ‘They feared somebody else was in the building, one of the other officers. … We were alone 90 percent of the time.’ The workouts supplemented the weight training the boys received during high school practice. So by the time they finally passed out each night, they had hit every muscle group in the body. Antwon was both the youngest and the smallest. That made him the most competitive. ‘I had to try my hardest,’ Bailey said. ‘I had to be better conditioned than those guys. I had to do everything else better because I was the smallest and youngest.’ Eventually, the boys got so into it that they became the ones to wake Johnson each day. He never begged them to work out. They dragged him out of bed, craving the early-morning exercise that jumpstarted their day. ‘It became a part of who I was,’ Bailey said. ‘When you’re not working, someone else is.’ Still, 3 a.m. was brutal. ‘The worst,’ he called it. But through it all, the police gym was the birthplace of Bailey’s affinity for working out. It transferred on to his career at SJC, where he became one of the strongest players on the team. Now at Syracuse, he’s pound for pound one of the strongest as well. The clock hit 5 a.m., and Johnson shuttled the boys back home — just enough time to shower and eat before heading to school and football practice. A few hours of downtime for homework, but by 9 p.m. Bailey was asleep. Just six hours remaining before he would be back in the gym. ‘If I had to do it all over again I think I would, man,’ Bailey said. ‘Because it pushed me. I felt so invested.’ ••• The disagreement spilled over onto the football field. Bailey and his teammate DeAngelo Williams, a linebacker for St. John’s College, ‘had some differences.’ Truth be told, it was more of a similarity that created the tension: an interest in the same girl. So when Bailey and Williams lined up across from each other in an Oklahoma drill, it was, in essence, a standoff. The two offensive linemen blocking for Bailey and the two defensive linemen in front of Williams were irrelevant. It came down to two guys. ‘The first time I didn’t really get a good shot on him,’ Bailey said. They lined up again. This time, Bailey’s lineman opened the perfect hole and set the stage for impact. ‘It was a clear shot, just Antwon and DeAngelo, one-on-one,’ said Korey Neal, one of the linemen blocking for Bailey. ‘To tell you the truth, I didn’t even see the hit until we watched the film because I was blocking. But I heard the hit.’ By the time Neal spun his head around, SJC head coach Joe Patterson was blowing his whistle to stop the drill. Williams lay flat on his back after Bailey ran him straight into the ground. The surprising power packed into Bailey’s frame compliments his toughness. He has never avoided a hit, and in high school, Neal said Bailey was the player seeking contact. As a three-year starter for SJC, Bailey ran for 2,878 yards and 45 touchdowns. He ran for 1,356 yards and 23 touchdowns in his senior year alone. He also returned punts at an insane clip — 33.4 yard per attempt. ‘There were a couple where he broke five or six tackles on one play, and even if they weren’t touchdowns they were just exciting,’ Patterson said. ‘I charted his yardage while he was here, and more than half of his yards came after first contact.’ Most prominent in Patterson’s mind was a game against Our Lady of Good Counsel. SJC came out on top 14-11, courtesy of two Bailey touchdowns. The lasting image was a 54-yard fake punt on which Bailey took the direct snap and broke a slew of tackles on his way to the end zone. He earned Gatorade Player of the Year honors in Washington, D.C., following his senior year as nothing short of a durable, power running back. ‘That’s probably one of the toughest guys out on the field,’ C.J. Hammond, Bailey’s high school teammate said. ‘I wouldn’t take the size into any consideration.’ ••• Lying on the bench, Joe Morris looked up at 135 pounds on the bar. He had never really used free weights before. They were not readily available in the 1970s. Morris, a freshman at SU, set his hands and tried his first repetition. ‘I tried to do one, and it dropped right on my chest,’ he said. ‘I thought to myself, ‘Oh, my word. This is going to be a long process.” Four years later, Morris would leave Syracuse as the all-time leading rusher. He holds the records for most career yards (4,299), most rushing yards in one game (252) and most rushing yards in one season (1,372). But as a 17-year-old kid who weighed a mere 165 pounds, he could hardly bench press when he arrived on campus. Morris transformed from a gangly teenager into a brawny man by the time he graduated. In four years, he put on 30 pounds of solid muscle. He left Syracuse able to bench 400 pounds, hang clean roughly 400 pounds and squat 700 pounds. At 5-foot-7, 195 pounds, Morris played his senior season at an identical height and within three pounds of where Bailey stands now. Both short but certainly not small. But unlike Morris, Bailey has had to wait three years for his chance to be the starter. And it is during those three years that he has fine-tuned his body into ideal condition. William Hicks, assistant athletics director for athletic performance, said Bailey is hang cleaning 325 pounds and able to do 19 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press — equivalent to a 400-pound maximum ability. It is his stocky build that allows him to put on muscle so easily. In fact, Hicks said he has to monitor a guy like Bailey closely so that he does not turn into a ‘bowling ball. ‘Antwon is a pretty good mix right now in the fact that he’s stout, he’s powerful, but he carries it well and moves well,’ Hicks said. The ability to move well is crucial for Bailey this year. Morris explained how it will be imperative for Bailey to avoid getting hit flush by defenders. Cutting just a few inches left or right before impact means he can avoid the bulk of the punishment and keep going forward. Staying healthy is the top priority, but Bailey maintains that his running style will not change. He never shied away from contact in high school or during his first three years with the Orange. ‘I think that most of the time when you pull back, that’s when you get hurt,’ he said. ‘I only know one way to go and that’s hard.’ ••• Bailey hates wearing Under Armour, but 10 plays would not be enough to stay warm in a wind chill of minus 3. He wasn’t expecting much playing time on the road at Notre Dame in 2008. Curtis Brinkley, the starting running back for the Orange, and Bailey agreed that a handful of plays would likely be all the freshman would get. But as the third quarter wound down, Brinkley was struggling. He could not get into a groove carrying the ball. He fumbled with the Orange trailing by 10 points, and Notre Dame extended its lead to 23-10 with a field goal on the ensuing drive. ‘I had scored a touchdown, but I wasn’t playing too well,’ Brinkley said. ‘Antwon came in for a series, and he was just electrifying out there.’ On SU’s next drive, Bailey carried the ball seven times for 63 yards and broke a 26-yard touchdown run up the middle to inject life into the team. Later in the game, running back coach Randy Trivers told Brinkley to return to the field. Brinkley instead told his coach to ride the shoulders of the unknown 5-foot-7 freshman. He was ‘in a zone,’ as Brinkley put it. So with 4:58 on the clock, Bailey returned to the huddle with Syracuse trailing 23-17. Six of the next seven plays were carries by Bailey for 43 yards. He’d moved the ball all the way down to the Notre Dame 10-yard line. ‘They couldn’t stop him,’ SU assistant coach Chris White said. Three plays later, quarterback Cameron Dantley found Donte Davis in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. It was arguably Syracuse’s biggest win in the past decade. White, who recruited Bailey himself, said the breakout performance by the running back was a moment he will cherish — a game he would never forget. Bailey finished with 126 yards on 16 carries. On NBC, the world found out who Antwon Bailey was. ‘It was crazy,’ Bailey said. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be able to experience that again.’ ••• The out-of-nowhere performance was followed by more waiting. More time as a backup. Brinkley rushed for over 1,000 yards that season, and Carter won the starting job over Bailey in 2009. But during the time he waited, he learned. Everywhere Carter went, Bailey followed in an attempt to prepare for his chance as the starter. ‘Antwon would get with me and we would stretch after the games, cold tub throughout the week and get a little extra lifting in or stretching,’ Carter said. ‘We did a lot.’ Looking back, Bailey said the biggest thing he learned from Carter was how to take care of his body. But when Carter’s body failed him against then-No. 20 West Virginia in 2010 and he left the game in the second quarter with a hip injury, Bailey was there. He carried the load, rushing for 94 yards on 19 carries. He kept the offense alive on the road in a hostile environment while Ryan Nassib completed just five passes. Bailey was the offense in that game — a 19-14 Syracuse win. Now, in 2011, he gets a chance to be the offense in every game. It is a role he has waited for his entire life. ‘I’m finally a senior, and I take on a different role than the first day I got here on campus,’ Bailey said. ‘I’m excited for this senior year.’ [email protected] Comments Published on August 31, 2011 at 12:00 pm Contact Michael: [email protected] | @Michael_Cohen13center_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more