By Parker Stone, Panhandle News Network Sports
Morgantown, W.V. – The news broke back on July 23rd of the inductees of the 2022 WVU Sports Hall of Fame, with three big names coming from one of the most exciting periods in West Virginia football history.
Quarterback Geno Smith and wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin will be honored along with all of the inductees at Milan Puskar Stadium during the Mountaineers September 17th home opener against Towson.
Smith, a four-star recruit from Florida, is the Mountaineers all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns by significant margins. Smith was named to the All Big East Second Team in his first year as the starter and then had a First-Team All Big East selection in his 2011 campaign. Geno Smith would enter the NFL Draft in 2013 where he would be selected 39th overall by the New York Jets. Smith saw action as a rookie in 2013 and was the full-time starter for the Jets until he lost the starting job to Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015 while out with a jaw injury. Smith has become one of the better backup quarterbacks in the NFL, previously playing for the New York Giants, Los Angeles Chargers, and is now in his third season with the Seattle Seahawks where he is battling with Drew Lock for the starting quarterback position after the departure of Russell Wilson.
A fellow member of the Mountaineers 2009 recruiting class, Tavon Austin, came to WVU after a stellar career at Dunbar High School in Maryland. Austin is in the conversation with Pat White as being the most electric player to ever step on the field for the gold and blue with his rare blend of speed and agility at the wide receiver position. Austin finished his illustrious career as the all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, as well as trailing only Bailey and David Sills in receiving touchdowns. Austin racked up countless awards at West Virginia, being named twice a Big East first-team selection, selections to the BIG 12 first team as well as being named Big East and BIG 12 Special Teams player of the year in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Nationally he was recognized as an All-American for his kick and punt return play in 2011 and 2012 as well as receiving the Paul Hornung and Jet award in 2012. Austin would enter the 2013 NFL Draft and would be selected 8th overall to the St. Louis Rams. Austin made the PFWA All-Rookie Team in 2013 and has made stops with the Cowboys, 49ers, Packers, Jaguars, and is currently signed with the Buffalo Bills. So many people talk about the Tavon Austin highlight tape, let me recommend watching “Tavon’s Night” on YouTube when he played a majority of that game at running back against Oklahoma in 2012. You will thank me.
Stedman Bailey arrived in Morgantown a year after Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, but he already had familiarity with his soon-to-be quarterback, as Smith and Bailey were high school teammates at Miramar High School in Florida. When you look at the history of great receivers in college football’s history, I will stand on the hill that Stedman Bailey is one of the most overlooked and underappreciated receivers of not only the 2010s decade in college football but of all time. Bailey started fast as a Mountaineer, earning All Big East Freshman honors from ESPN.com and tailoring that strong freshman start into a two-year stretch that has been unmatched as a receiver for WVU. In his sophomore year, Bailey set the WVU record for receiving yards in a season and well as tying the single-season receiving touchdown mark in being named Second Team Big East. This all culminated in his final season with the Mountaineers as he broke his own record for receptions in a single season with 114, which he shares with Austin, set a new WVU record for receiving yards in a single season with 1622 yards, and what is the most staggering stat of them all, a program record, that in my opinion will never be broken, with 25 receiving touchdowns. To put how impressive that is into perspective Deandre Hopkins was the next closest in receiving touchdowns and he only had 18. Bailey was named a First Team All-American in 2012 for his outstanding season and should have won the Fred Biletnikoff Award for that year. He is the Mountaineers all-time leader in receiving touchdowns with 41 in only three years played. He chose to forgo his senior season and enter the 2013 NFL Draft where he was selected with the 92nd pick by the St Louis Rams. Bailey notably survived an attempt on his life in 2015 as he was shot twice while in a car in Florida with his family. Despite these setbacks, Bailey has made a few attempts to make his way back to the NFL.
These three superstars in West Virginia Mountaineer Football history are truly special. Smith is widely considered with Pat White and Major Harris as the best signal callers the Mountaineers have ever had. Austin and Bailey are the two most decorated wideouts to ever don the gold and blue. Seeing them all go in together is surely going to be a treat for many Mountaineer faithful.