He was referred to as "the other Bailey" until he staged a spectacular coming-out party at the Proving Ground combine for underclassmen prior to the first Semper Fidelis All-American Football Classic last week in Phoenix, Arizona. Now everybody who is anybody in the recruiting business knows about Caleb Bailey.
Before the 6-foot-2, 207-pound linebacker from Romeoville showed up in Phoenix, he was confused with the more celebrated Bailey in town, Bolingbrook's Aaron Bailey, who quarterbacked his team to the Class 8A championship in November. Caleb was looking for exposure and an opportunity to build his reputation.
It didn't take long before Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network and every other recruiting analyst and every college recruiter was asking: "Who is that guy?"
"He looked very good at the combine. He showed good speed and instincts, definitely Big 10 ability. He will be a rising star," Lemming said. "There were 300 kids at the combine and Bailey was one of the most impressive of all. Toledo already has offered a scholarship. But that's only the beginning. He'll get Big 10 offers, too."
How impressive was Bailey? Even though he tweaked a hamstring while working out in preparation for the combine and wasn't able to show off his 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash trials, he demonstrated enough talent and potential to earn one of only 15 invitations to next year's Semper Fidelis all-star game.
"I feel good about myself now," Bailey said. "I definitely felt going in (to the combine) that I had to do a good job, hurt or not. If you do well, I said to myself, you'll get invited back to play in the bowl game as a senior. That was one of my goals and I achieved that.
"My next goal? Just to get better in any way possible, improving my grades, getting recruited by major Division I schools. I see other players around the area, guys who have bigger reputations than me at this point, guys like (Joliet Catholic's) Ty Isaac and (Bolingbrook's) Aaron Bailey, and I want to be recognized like they are."
Bailey started behind the proverbial eight ball. "He never played football until his freshman hear. And he was nobody going into his junior year because of an injury as a sophomore. He had surgery for a ruptured testicle and played only one game on the varsity. So he was off the charts coming into last season," said Romeoville coach Jeff Kuna.
Born and raised in southern California, Bailey and his family moved to Harrisburg, Illinois, when he was seven-years-old, then moved to Romeoville before his freshman year. He was a three-sport athlete until he realized that football was his calling. He didn't get serious about the game until last season.
"He is probably the best pure linebacker I have coached in 17 years," Kuna said. "His change of direction is so good. He plays in a ready position at all times. He is one guy that nobody can juke out in the open field. He has great quickness and balance. He comes off the edge so well. No offensive tackle or running back can handle him."
Bailey had a good-but-not-great junior season. Playing for a 3-6 team that finished seventh among eight schools in the Southwest Prairie Conference, he was credited with 66 tackles, 25 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He was his team's defensive MVP and was an all-conference selection.
In his view, however, that wasn't good enough.
"I wanted people to know me. I worked hard for my junior year. I was all-conference. But I wanted more than that," he said. "I wanted to be All-Area and All-State. I kept up with other people's statistics to try to beat them. A lot of people didn't know about me."
Bailey was invited to attend Tom Lemming's banquet in December. After talking to Lemming, he was invited to the Proving Ground combine. Knowing it would be a showcase event that would give me enormous exposure to college recruiters, he began training as if it was an NFL combine.
"I was making sure I could do as well as I could. I wanted to do everything at the combine," he said. "One of the biggest parts of my game is speed. But I tweaked my hamstring working out in the 40 and didn't get timed at the combine because I didn't want to risk running slower than 4.5.
"So I concentrated on being more physical and doing as well as I could and trying to impress people in the linebacker and one-on-one drills. People said I did a good job. I felt I opened some eyes. Under the circumstances, I felt I became more of a top player. Obviously, if I hadn't done well, I wouldn't have been invited to play in the Semper Fidelis game."
The recruiting process has only begun for Bailey. Toledo offered after coach Tim Beckman left for Illinois. He has taken an unofficial visit to Vanderbilt. Northern Illinois is interested. But Lemming predicts Bailey's performance at the combine will trigger more interest from more big-time programs, including Big 10 schools.
"My dream school is USC," Bailey said. "Ever since I can remember, I always heard about USC when I was growing up, the way they built the program, how (coach) Pete Carroll was a legend. I like the aura of USC...Reggie Bush and the linebackers who played my position, Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing. I hope I get a chance to consider them."
Just like he had a game plan for the Proving Ground combine, Bailey has a game plan as he prepares for the 2012 season. He works out and lifts weights at more than one facility during the week and on weekends. His goal is to get bigger and stronger and more explosive while maintaining his 4.5 speed. He hopes to weight 215 to 220 pounds as a senior and wants to improve his bench-press from 245 to 300 pounds and his squat from 465 pounds to 515.
"This year is my coming-out year. Before, I wasn't out there like some of the other players like Ty Isaac and Aaron Bailey," he said. "When recruiting starts, I want to attract recruiters from the great schools, the recognized schools that have winning traditions."