SI Vault
John Garrity
November 23, 1987
Johnny Bailey's day started out like a bad dream. Halfway through the second quarter of Saturday's game at Abilene Christian, the Texas A & I tailback—who began the afternoon as the NCAA Division II leading ground-gainer and scorer—had struggled to only 12 yards on six carries. This would not be the day that Bailey, who is a sophomore, would break the Division II career record of eight 200-yard rushing games, a mark he tied against Eastern New Mexico on Nov. 7.
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November 23, 1987

A Young Man In A Rush

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Bailey, a streetwise city kid raised by a working mother, had pictured himself making big gains on television for Nebraska, Iowa or Texas A & M. He wasn't quite sure what to make of Kingsville, a town of 28,000, less than an hour's drive southwest of Corpus Christi. "I knew it was going to be one of those country towns—not many clubs, not many places to go—so I prepared myself for it the summer before by staying around the house being bored a lot," he says. But Bailey has found campus life livelier than expected, and he says, "Now Kingsville is just like my second home."

If Kingsville is Bailey's second home, Sherman is his big brother. Running out of the I formation, Bailey and Sherman broke the NCAA combined rushing record for all divisions last season with 3,526 yards, as Sherman averaged 137.7 a game and scored 23 touchdowns. Although at 6 feet and 190 pounds Sherman is relatively small for a fullback, it was his ferocious blocking that sprang Bailey for a record-shattering Division II single-season rushing mark of 2,011 yards [the previous record of 1,775 yards, set by Jim Holder of Panhandle ( Okla.) State, stood for 23 years].

"When Johnny was on his roll last year, Heath never complained," says A & I offensive backfield coach Don Pittman. "And Johnny, even though he gets all the publicity, he knows who the man is that makes it possible."

But in Bailey's 236-yard game against Eastern New Mexico, a 30-7 win, Sherman went down for the season with a knee injury. "I've never seen players react like that," says Emil Tagliabue, associate sports editor for The Corpus Christi Caller-Times. "It was like somebody had died."

Indeed, in hushed tones, Bailey talks about his backfield partner in the past tense. "He was more than just a runner and a blocker," he says sadly. "Our relationship was very close and tight. It's tough for me to take his loss." To which Sherman says, "I'm alive. I'm just not available.

Bailey felt Sherman's loss most acutely Saturday as the Abilene Christian linebackers were able to key on him almost exclusively. Even so, Bailey wouldn't credit the Wildcat defense for knocking him out of the game, saying, "It's not the licks [that hurt my back], it's the cutting."

With his three gutsy touchdowns at Abilene, Bailey kept Texas A & I atop Division II and proved, licks or no, that he can definitely cut it.

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