When Zack Bailey arrived at Summerville High School in 2011, he brought the dream of playing in the NFL with him. Now, just eight years later, that dream has become a reality.
Despite all the accolades earned during Bailey’s Green Wave and Gamecock days, the road to the NFL wasn’t an easy one for the 6-foot, 5-inch, 299-pound guard. Riddled with ankle injuries during his collegiate career, he was often in prove-it mode.
Unfortunately, in December of 2018, a broken ankle Bailey suffered in what would be his final performance as a Gamecock greatly affected his draft stock. The setback didn’t deter him, though.
“By the time I got into the treatment room, I was already asking what I could do to start rehabbing,” Bailey said. “I didn’t even know the severity of it yet; I didn’t know what was going on. I took it head-on; I didn’t dwell on needing to have surgery. I looked at it as God had this planned for me. I just focused on rehab and trying to get better every day.”
Just as he was during his careers at Summerville and the University of South Carolina, Bailey was mentally prepared for whatever would come of the NFL Draft.
Though he tried not to let the anticipation get to him, it was on his mind daily.
While the USC standout was projected by some prognosticators to be a late-round pick, there are not many teams willing to roll the dice on drafting an injured player.
To be among the prospects is a dream not a lot of pro football hopefuls get to fulfill. And although it’s a roadblock, going undrafted doesn’t always mean going unsigned.
To Bailey, it didn’t matter how he got into the NFL, only that he got there.
He did everything in his power, from rehabbing hard to prepare for the NFL Combine to working out for teams leading up to the draft.
“The Combine was amazing,” Bailey said. “It’s every little boy’s dream to get to this level. I never would’ve thought that I would be here.”
Due to the nature of the injury, it’s no surprise that Bailey would be limited in what he could show interested teams at the Combine.
While he couldn’t participate in positional workouts, he was able to bench press and take on vertical and broad jumps. There are plenty of opportunities to impress teams beyond workouts.
The written test, medical exams and interviews are also valuable ways for players to be evaluated.
“There were things I could do, and things I couldn’t do. I wanted to show that I was able and that I had been doing the correct things to get my body right,” Bailey said.
His NFL fate was now out of his hands, and he was ready to let the cards fall where they may.
Bailey held his NFL draft party in Charleston surrounded by family and friends. While his phone didn’t ring during the 2019 NFL Draft, it rang plenty afterwards as his status became that of a priority free agent.
Just as he had offers to several colleges while playing at Summerville High School, multiple pro clubs called, wanting to offer Bailey a free-agent contract. Of those clubs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was his chosen team.
“To me, it didn’t matter if I was drafted or a free agent because I was going to play football in the NFL,” he said. “I wasn’t down [about not getting drafted], I just looked at it as another opportunity.”
He said signing with the Bucs was an easy decision. The team didn’t address any needs along the offensive line during the draft.
“I looked across the board at who took offensive lineman and who didn’t, and the Bucs hadn’t taken any lineman,” Bailey said. “They also have a really good system.”
“Florida is a great location that’s close to home,” Bailey added.
When Bailey came to Tampa Bay, it was a return of sorts. On New Year’s Day 2018, his Gamecocks rallied from a deficit to emerge victorious in the Outback Bowl, which was played on the Buccaneers home field of Raymond James Stadium.
A leader of the offensive line at USC, Bailey earned a reputation for his toughness and physicality, as well as skills as a blocker. Along with those traits and talents, his versatility is what will make him most valuable in the NFL.
The lineman played exclusively at his natural position of left guard during his sophomore and senior years, but as a true freshman Bailey’s versatility was challenged early on.
Never hesitating to do what was asked for the sake of the team, he stepped in at the center position when the Gamecocks lost both their starting and backup centers in the first two games of the season. He also saw some time at tackle during his junior year.
Aug. 31 at 4 p.m. is the deadline for teams to cut their rosters from 90 players. When all is said and done, he has a decent chance to make the 53-man roster.
Once again, Bailey finds himself in prove-it mode. This time it’s at the pro level under legendary head coach Bruce Arians.
Bailey shined at Summerville and at USC under renowned coaches John McKissick and Steve Spurrier. The third time can truly be a charm for the Green Wave alum.
No matter how far Bailey makes it in the NFL, he will never forget being part of the Green Wave at Summerville High School, where he learned how to play football.
“I was just up there prior to camp and worked out with the football team. I have high hopes for them and wish them the best of luck. Go Summerville!”