MORGANTOWN - The decision came as a shock to absolutely no one. Nor were the reasons for it at all surprising.
Stedman Bailey will enter the NFL draft, giving up his senior season and a chance to further rewrite a West Virginia record book in which his name is already prominent. The junior wide receiver had been widely expected to make that decision.
"I support him fully,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.
The decisions means the Mountaineers' Dec. 29 Pinstripe Bowl game against Syracuse will be the last not only for quarterback Geno Smith and receiver Tavon Austin, but the third member of that record-smashing trio, as well.
And Bailey admitted Monday that the imminent departures of Smith and Austin, both seniors, weighed heavily into his decision on several levels. First, the three came to West Virginia in the same recruiting class in 2009. Smith and Bailey also played together at Miramar High School in Florida.
"That played a role,'' said Bailey, who redshirted in 2009 while the other two did not, establishing the difference in their eligibility status. "Those are my buds. We all came in together and developed some great relationships. The fact that those guys won't be here makes it a whole lot different. I kind of felt like it was only right I go with them.''
Perhaps more significant than wanting to go out with the group in which he came is that if Bailey were to remain another year, he would be in a far different situation in West Virginia's offense. He would be playing with a new quarterback, a rebuilt offensive line and without the threat of Austin to take away double-teams from opposing defenses.
Bailey has already submitted his underclassman evaluation request to the NFL and received the response. He said the NFL evaluators see him as a potential third-round draft choice based on his college performance to date. If he were to return and perhaps struggle in a rebuilding offense, who knows how that evaluation might change.
"At this point, my stock probably couldn't get much higher,'' said Bailey. "It'll be a new quarterback next year, Tavon won't be there and that could have defenses just keying on me. My numbers could go down and that played a role.''
And lastly, Bailey also recently became a father.
"I have a family now, and that comes first,'' he said.
In that NFL draft in April, both Smith and Austin are projected as higher draft picks than Bailey, probably first-rounders depending upon their evaluations in the months leading up to the draft. Bailey can improve his stock, too, by performing well in pre-draft workouts and, if he's invited, at the NFL combine in February, but that's not a guarantee.