After toiling away at a community college and waiting nervously on standby for open flights over the past year, A.J. Bailey has returned to the college running scene happier than when he had left.
Bailey, a junior world champion in the 400 meters and a multi-time All-American at Texas A&M, believes his promising running career is back on track at Texas, where last week he helped the Longhorns’ 1,600-meter relay break the school indoor record at the Conference Clash in Birmingham, Ala.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d be here,” Bailey said.
There have been many unexpected twists and turns since Bailey graduated from Mansfield Timberview in 2012 with dreams of Olympic glory and the credentials suggesting he could get there. Yet despite earning All-America honors five times and helping the Aggies to the 2014 outdoor national title, Bailey’s times regressed and he grew disenchanted with some of his coaches. He left the school after the 2014 season and said he considered quitting college track altogether.
“That’s what A&M did to me,” he said. “It gave me a bad taste about it.”
Bailey had moved back home and was taking classes at Cedar Valley College when he got a call from his cousin’s wife, Texas sprint coach Tonja Buford-Bailey, who talked him out of his funk and convinced him to enroll at Texas in the spring of 2015.
Since A&M would not release him from his scholarship, Bailey was required by NCAA rules to sit out all of last year. That meant if he was to compete, he would have to do so unattached and could not travel with the team or wear Texas clothing at competitions. Bailey, the son of an airplane mechanic for American Airlines, was able to fly standby to events, though there was never a guarantee there would be room for him on a flight. In February, he scraped together money he had gotten from his birthday and paid $80 to run two events at a meet at New Mexico and another $120 for a hotel stay.
It was a humble detour for Bailey, who a few years earlier had set the national high school record for the 400.
“He’s always been that missing link,” Buford-Bailey said. “Other guys have rallied around him and have brought him in with open arms.”
In a couple of weeks, Bailey, who is dealing with some minor injuries, will make his Longhorns debut in the 400. Until then, he’ll continue to run on the 1600 relay that broke the school record last weekend in 3:06.36. The time ranks No. 4 in the NCAA season, trailing Florida, LSU and Baylor.
Chris Irvin, Zack Bilderback, and Byron Robinson joined Bailey in making history.
“It’s gonna come down some more,” Bailey said. “Whenever it’s the right time, it’ll come down tremendously because we’re capable of running much faster. I know we’re better than 3:06.”
Give me shelter: Bailey and the Longhorns’ sprinters will no longer have to practice in the rain thanks to a tent donated by Texas 400-meter All-American hurdler Hamzah Deyah.
The tent, which stretches 80 meters, covers most of the west side on the track at Myers Stadium as well as both long/triple jump pits.
Deyah, 30, has dual citizenship in Libya and is training at Texas for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“When the rain season kicks in and it gets cold, it becomes a little bit of a pain to work out,” Deyah said. “Every day is critical. You can’t get a day back in training. If this helps us a few days out of the season in training, it’s gonna have a big impact.”
Deyah is the owner of Austin-based Feniex Industries, which produces LED lighting for emergency response vehicles like firetrucks and ambulances.
Dual-sport athlete: Freshman wide receiver John Burt is participating on the track team in the 60-meter hurdles and competed last week in Birmingham, finishing 11th in prelims.
Burt, of Tallahassee, Fla., had the nation’s No. 14 time (all conditions) in the 110 hurdles as a high school senior.
“Personally, I didn’t think football players were that fast, but he could probably do the 4×1,” Robinson said.
Burt had a productive freshman football season, catching 28 passes for 457 yards and two touchdowns.