Bailey McElwain, you remember the name, you remember the number 39. You remember him, don’t you? He arrived on the Vanderbilt campus and football roster in the fall of 2016. He made some big plays as a true freshman starter in those victorious final two games against Ole Miss and Tennessee. What you may not know is what Bailey McElwain was dealing with off the field. The pains of a veteran football player stuck in a freshman body. McElwain quietly disappeared from the field and football roster. Here is his story, and it is a good one.
Bailey McElwain attended Hewitt High School in Trussville, Alabama, just North of Birmingham, where he played both sides of the ball as a two-year starter. He was team captain for two years, as well as a three-year letter winner. McElwain earned All-State honors his junior and senior years. His stats on the defensive side of the ball were impressive, with 200-plus tackles, including 18 tackles for loss, and five quarterback sacks.
During the summer of 2015, Stanford offered Bailey a scholarship. He committed, but in November, he found out that he had not been admitted to the school academically. McElwain was told he could take a year off and enroll at Stanford the following year. So, he enrolled at Lake Forest Prep in Chicago, Illinois and was scheduled to report in early August.
Trust Your Gut
In 2016, during the summer after graduation, Zac Thomas, Baily’s best friend and now the prolific quarterback at Appalachian State, were riding around Trussville talking about football and their futures. Bailey told Thomas he had a weird feeling that something was going to happen with Vanderbilt. He couldn’t explain it; he just had a feeling. Low and behold, two days later Jeff Genyk called. Genyk told McElwain there was a good chance he could start if he came to Vandy. McElwain took the chance and moved to Nashville. He arrived on campus the first day of the 2016 preseason workouts.
Less than a month later, he started his first college football game as Vanderbilt’s lead fullback. He was a force to be reckoned with as a blocker, as described above with his defensive accomplishments. His blocks were instrumental in Vanderbilt’s success in the opponent’s red zone with 43-of-46 conversions of possessions into points. Surprisingly, McElwain was also a gem of a receiver out of the backfield. He caught six passes for 35 yards with touchdowns in the Ole Miss and Tennessee games.
Behind The Scenes
What Vandy Nation did not know about McElwain was that he was playing with pain. His minor neck issues from high school had come back with a vengeance. He was not practicing much during the week, as the Vanderbilt doctors were trying to find the source of the pain, as well as managing said pain. “I never thought it would be as serious as it was” McElwain explained. The doctors thought it was a bone spur that was causing all of my problems. So, I was scheduled to have bone spur surgery after the season. “I came back for the second semester of my freshman year and did the surgery, it went well I was cleared to go home, work out, and do my thing at home. Yet, when I was working out and it just never felt right. My neck was always hurting.”
As McElwain reported to summer workouts, on the second day, he broke his foot, which turned into surgery number two to insert a screw into his foot. Fast forward to Fall 2017, week one of the season. His foot was cleared to play, although his neck had not been. Doctor Fitch, the team physician, told McElwain that his neck situation is more serious than a bone spur. They went back and forth for a week and ultimately decided that he should not play football anymore. McElwain took a couple of weeks off to process and shake off the gut-punch news.
McElwain returned to campus to continue his education and eventually started helping out as an intern coach with the fullbacks during the 2017 season and through spring ball. He was doing well in classes while coaching. After the 2017 school year, McElwain was full speed ahead on graduation and starting his coaching career. Yet, at Vanderbilt, he could not get the summer hours as an upperclassman that he needed and wanted to fast track his graduation. He would have to remain at Vandy an additional two and a half years to graduate.
Sweet Home Alabama
“I decided to transfer to UAB which is closer to home, and I could graduate in a year and get started on my coaching career,” Baily explained. “This is my last semester. It should be my junior year, but I am on my last semester. I have done summer school and each semester I have taken a ridiculous amount of hours.” he continued. Basically, McElwain has taken 21 credits a semester including summer sessions to get to where he is now. He will graduate in May, with a Bachelors Degree in General Studies and Minors in History and Psychology.
Being back in Alabama and close to his old high school, he had the opportunity to volunteer at his old stomping grounds at Hewitt High School last spring. However, due to full course loads, he could not be around the game last fall. “Last season was my first season I wasn’t around football and it was TOUGH. I feel am at the most level-headed phase in my life. I have had a lot and I have had very little, I am genuinely happy and I know what I need in life to make me happy,” said McElwain with a smile.
When Did You Fall In Love With Football?
“I started playing football in third grade, and every year when it came time to sign up I was like ‘mom, I don’t wanna play. I don’t wanna play!’ Mom would say, ‘You are playing. I don’t care what you think. You’re playing!’ I hated football,” he chuckled. “I was a kid, I didn’t really get it. Maybe because mom wanted me to play, I didn’t want to play. I loved playing in the games. I hated the rest of it.”
McElwain continued, “Then Chance Guess got a hold of me and coached me at Hewitt – in 9th grade, he was always on me saying ‘You could be so good if you worked. You could be a great player.’ I kept saying ‘dude, shut up I don’t want to hear it.’ I was a freshman I just didn’t care. Then something happened; there was this one game my freshman year we played Gadsden City. We went into double OT. We ended up losing the game. I was distraught. I don’t know why – I don’t know what sparked me but I told him (Chance Guess) ‘You will never see another day where I don’t work as hard as anyone else out here.’ After that game, my whole life changed.
I don’t think I fell in love with the game as much as I did the process of the game. The developmental side of the game. That was one of my last games my freshman year. Every day since I wake up at 4:30 and work out and I would work out after school. It just changed my life. Since then I have been in love with the game.”
Bailey McElwain has been running full steam ahead to graduate so he can start working on his coaching career. His short term goals are to get a graduate assistant job and immerse himself in the game of football again. While his long term goals include a job as a full-time coach with a wife and kids. He hasn’t decided which level he would ultimately like to coach. However, he is excited to get back to the game he loves.
McElwain rents a home about a half a mile from the UAB main campus where he has invested in his future. He built an extensive home gym where he can work out on his schedule. “I invested $3,000 into building my gym. It is worth it. The convenience of it. As well as the time and energy I am saving. I walk downstairs and it’s there.” McElwain stated proudly.
McElwain will graduate in May. His hope is that he will have a job lined up before graduation so that he can immediately tackle his next adventure in life. Yes, he still has neck pain when he works out. But he has finally learned the source of his chronic pain. Last fall it was determined he has spinal stenosis as well as degenerative discs in his C4, C5, and C6. The doctors have said he has the discs of a 60-year-old.
“Why do I want to coach? Because I love the game so much and I love the developmental side of the game. I love the process. Seeing kids grow. I love helping people.”
Any coaches or football programs that would like to talk to Bailey McElwain, please contact me directly and I will send you his contact information.