Football calls, but his first passion is discus

Tavis Bailey has always been a pretty good football player. In return, football has always shown its appreciation.

Bailey was selected to play in last week's annual state high school East-West All-Star Game. This fall he will begin his commitment to his football scholarship at Lenoir-Rhyne University.

He is not ready to give up just yet, however, on his passion for track and field.

Following up on his 3A state high school championship in the discus throw this spring, Bailey will compete in the national AAU Junior Olympic meet in Norfolk, Va., July 29-Aug. 7.

Though Lenoir-Rhyne didn't recruit him for track and field, Bailey has back-burner plans to walk on to the team at some point.

No pressure

By the time he reached Kannapolis A.L. Brown High as a freshman in 2006, Bailey, son of Charles and Edwina Wright, already had been playing football for several years and competing in track and field for two seasons at Kannapolis Middle School.

He did fairly well as a discus thrower, he said, finishing in the top five at the conference meets.

Though track-and-field throwers often participate in both the discus throw and the shot put, Bailey said coaches didn't pressure him to throw the shot, which was "what I wanted to hear."

A Brown upper-classman mentored Bailey, and the freshman finished in the top six in the South Piedmont Conference in the discus.

In 2008, he opened the outdoor season with a throw of 130 feet, about 5 feet better than his previous best.

Bailey continued the season averaging throws in the upper 120s, so even he was shocked when he threw a second-place distance of 144 feet at regionals, earning him the sixth seed at the state meet.

"At states, I got smashed," Bailey said. "I think the 144 (feet) was just one good throw. At states, I went right back to the 120s I was in."

Though he slipped at the state championships, Bailey discovered his own potential. He purchased a pair of track shoes and started training on his own before his junior season.

Bailey also picked up a shot put for the first time, but his throws in the 40- to 45-foot range weren't impressive.

His personal-best discus throw of 165 feet at the Blue Devil Invitational at Duke came early in the season. He won the regional and placed second at states. College recruiters, he said, were interested in him as a discus thrower but were waiting for him to improve in the shot put.

Football footsteps

Following in the footsteps of his brother James Williams, a Wonders lineman in the early 2000s, Bailey progressed at an average rate in football. He played two years on the junior varsity before being moving to varsity as a junior.

After a season as the Wonders' starting center, Bailey, now 6-3 and 280 pounds, was moved to guard as a senior.

The Observer named him all-conference and all-Piedmont in football.

He signed with Lenoir-Rhyne on Feb. 3, before the outdoor track-and-field season.

In the indoor season, Bailey registered a heave of 471/2 feet at the 1A-2A-3A state meet, good enough for fifth place. His fine outdoor season was capped by his state discus championship and a runner-up finish in the shot put.

His discuss throw of 185 feet 1 inch broke a 17-year-old mark for the state 3A meet.

Once again encouraged by his state meet performance, Bailey immediately looked to get even better. He asked for help from Shelton Harrison of Charlotte, who coaches an AAU program for throwers called the Higher Power Athletic Club.

"After he broke the state record, he wanted to refine his skills," Harrison said.

"He asked if I would help him go after 200 feet. We've been doing technical drills, working on foot position and doing balancing drills."

In the long term, Bailey has his sights set on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials - that is, if football doesn't get in the way.