From Miramar to Morgantown, winning combo of Smith and Bailey a constant

by | Special to

MIRAMAR, Fla. -- Years before Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey became the best quarterback-wide receiver tandem in college football, they secretly devised a plan in church.

Before they were Heisman Trophy candidates, before they produced one of the most electric Saturdays in college football history, and before they rewrote the West Virginia and Big 12 record books, the two friends worshiped at New Direction Christian Center in Miami Lakes. Sermons filled the chapel on those Sundays, but sitting on the golden pine pews, Smith and Bailey covertly discussed a different faith -- football.

"Of course we probably should've been paying attention when the pastor was speaking," Bailey said, "but we were kids and our attention spans were short. So we talked briefly during those times about things that were going on, like what his stats were, who he was playing and vice versa."

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During these conversations, Smith and Bailey, who met at Norland Middle School in Miami Gardens, became inseparable.

After one talk six years ago, they forged the Miramar-to-West Virginia pipeline that has produced exceptional dividends in Morgantown for the No. 8 Mountaineers (4-0).

Smith, then starring for Miramar High School, raved about his team's potent spread offense one Sunday morning. A frustrated Bailey, stuck at the time playing in Miami Carol City Senior High School's run-heavy scheme, listened intently.

Shortly after, he transferred.

Smith and Bailey reached the Florida state semifinals in 2008 at Miramar under head coach Damon Cogdell, a former West Virginia linebacker. Smith left as the third-best passer in Broward County history and Bailey finished his sole season at Miramar with 1,163 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.

When it came time to select colleges, Smith once again recruited Bailey -- this time to West Virginia. In the process, the duo established a pattern in North Miami.

Miramar High currently has six alumni on the Mountaineers roster, including wide receivers Ivan McCartney, Terrence Gourdine, Devonte Mathis and running back D'Vontis Arnold.

"We have a family-oriented team and we all stick together around here, so when you come up here it's not like you're just so far away from home trying to meet all new friends," Smith said during a conference call with reporters. "You actually have guys that you've known from home -- guys whose families are pretty much like your families."

Instead of exchanging stats in church, the Miramar pair is making history. In Saturday's 70-63 win over Baylor, Smith tossed for a gaudy 656 passing yards and eight touchdowns -- both program records. The senior had more scoring passes than incompletions (6). Bailey racked up 303 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions -- also West Virginia bests.

One particular play brought back vivid memories for Codgell.

With less than two minutes to play in the first half, West Virginia was driving, down 28-21. Smith took the shotgun snap and looked left, seeing the Baylor defense blanketing his reads. He bounced around in the pocket just long enough to lob a pass off his back foot to Bailey -- by then neglected in coverage -- for a 20-yard touchdown.

"That was like déjà vu," Cogdell said. "They did that all the time when they were here at Miramar."

Smith's play this season has established him as the Heisman front-runner. The senior has 1,728 passing yards and 21 total touchdowns and a seemingly impossible 83.43 completion percentage. He has not thrown an interception through 169 attempts, resulting in the nation's top passing efficiency rating of 208.37. Russell Wilson, by comparison, holds the NCAA's all-time season record with a mark of 191.78.

Smith has been so proficient that Bailey is also getting some mention for the Heisman Trophy. He leads the nation in touchdown receptions with 10 and ranks second in receptions per game (10.25) and yards per contest (158.75).

Most importantly, West Virginia has become a fashionable selection to make a national-title run and the recognition bestowed upon the program's North Miami liaison has simultaneously sustained the pipeline. Gaining the moniker "The Miramar Boys" in Morgantown, the pair's influence is obvious back home.

"Down here they see Geno and those guys going up there and being successful," Cogdell said. "You see kids walking around with West Virginia shirts on. Now everybody in the country knows who West Virginia is."

Because recruiting has spawned scandals, Cogdell's involvement in helping dispatch players to his alma mater has drawn suspicion. The Miramar coach is adamant, however, that he does not deliberately steer his players to Morgantown.

"I have no influence on making a kid go to West Virginia," Cogdell said. "I'm a realist. I'm not going to sell a kid on West Virginia that I don't think is going to be a fit there."

Cogdell points to the recruitment of Tracy Howard, a former Miramar cornerback and a blue-chip prospect last year. Many pundits predicted he would sign with West Virginia, but Howard instead faxed his letter of intent to Miami, primarily because he did not assimilate well in Morgantown.

"Coach Cogdell played a minor role in my recruitment," Smith said. "His thing was that he got all the coaches together, he got all the offers together for me and he let me know which schools were recruiting me the hardest."

For players from North Miami, Morgantown seems to be an improbable destination. Nestled on the fringe of the Appalachian Mountains, the quaint college town is a pronounced deviation from the multicultural sprawl and oppressive swelter of South Florida.

"There are a lot of crazy things that are going on down in Miami, especially in the neighborhood we grew up in," Bailey said. "There is nothing really good going on. So to get away, find yourself on a mission, get your education, and to come up here and perform in football, trying to get to the NFL -- you look at it in the long run and that's bigger than staying home."

As West Virginia receives national attention, Smith and Bailey are at the center of the discussion. Back in Miramar, that is no different. With a showdown against No. 11 Texas looming this weekend, North Miami will be eagerly watching.

"I'll be at home barbecuing," Cogdell said. "I already have some of the coaches coming over to my house. We're going to sit down, watch that game, have a few cocktails and cheer them on."


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