I know it’s my time
And it’s now or never
Shine so bright, I light the night
And it feels so right, ain’t nothing better
“Now Or Never” — Kendrick Lamar feat. Mary J. Blige
It takes a special kind of season to have rival football coaches openly lobby for an opposing player over one of their own as so many San Luis Obispo County skippers did when it came to selecting the area’s best for the 2014 season.
“You’d have to be a complete moron not to pick him,” Arroyo Grande High’s Tom Goossen bluntly put it.
“If you gave it to a Nipomo kid over him, I’d be mad at you,” Russ Edwards conceded.
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“I’d have thrown Ethan Hicks’ name in the ring,” Atascadero’s Vic Cooper quipped, “if it wasn’t for some skinny guy up north.”
Bailey Gaither might be slender in frame, but the Paso Robles senior wide receiver bulked up in the biggest moments and led the Bearcats to unprecedented success on the strength of a season and career filled with breakaway speed and explosive plays.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound San Jose State commit caught 73 passes for 1,480 yards and
scored 30 total touchdowns to be the runaway choice for this year’s Tribune County Player of the Year.
“I just felt like whenever I got the ball in my hands,” Gaither said in his understated tone, “that I could try and make something happen.”
And he did it for three straight years, ending his illustrious gridiron career with 167 receptions for 3,277 yards and 41 touchdowns through the air.
He averaged 19.6 yards per catch in three seasons, 91.0 receiving yards per game and scored a total of 56 times.
“He’s got something that I’ve never had before,” Paso Robles’ 16-year coach Rich Schimke said. “We milked it as long as we could while we had him, and he didn’t let us down.”
• • •I’m so far away from the place I used to be, struggling usually
I can feel the energy in the air
It feels like I’m supposed to be here
• • •
There was a time when football didn’t come second nature to Gaither.
It wasn’t even his first sport.
“I was more of a baseball kid growing up,” said Gaither, an avid Oakland A’s fan who took home 2014 Tribune County Player of the Year honors in baseball as well. “I was kind of hesitant and scared (about playing football).”
Gaither was born in Paso Robles but lived near Chico from kindergarten until he was 10, when his family moved back to the Central Coast.
“I had some anxiety when I moved up to Auburn and places like that,” he said. “I just wasn’t comfortable — not that into it.
“Coming here, it feels like home.”
Gaither started playing football in fifth grade, and his scale of nerves and comfort with the sport didn’t start tipping toward the positive side until seventh grade, when he teamed with the likes of fellow future varsity standouts Josh Oliver and Christian Erickson to defeat Guadalupe in the Central Coast Super Bowl.
By the time he reached high school, word was out.
“When he was a freshman, I saw him playing safety and he was delivering some of the biggest blows on the field,” Schimke said. “He was just fearless with the way he was throwing his weight around.”
Schimke brought Gaither up to varsity as a sophomore and he was used primarily as a deep-ball threat, averaging 21.1 yards per catch — his highest one-year figure — and scoring eight times on 37 receptions.
“Coming from Cal Poly and recruiting him, I knew he had that top-end speed,” San Luis Obispo first-year coach Pat Johnston said, “but what I underestimated was the explosiveness. He went from stationary to 100 miles-per-hour in a blink of an eye.”
• • •Feel so good in what you do
Helps somebody else get through
That’s why I do the best I can
Because I know how blessed I am
• • •
Speed is always the first thing associated with Gaither, and as local football and baseball teams have found out over the past few years, his is at least one notch above the rest.
“There’s Central Coast speed and there’s big city speed, like when you go down to L.A. or Fresno,” Goossen said. “Gaither is as fast as the fastest in that area.”
His quickest laser-timed 40-yard dash is 4.45 seconds, which would have tied him with current San Francisco 49er Bruce Ellington and Nebraska’s Quincy Enunwa for the 11th-best 40 time among wideouts at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.
Couple that with a knack for making plays when the spotlights shine, and Gaither’s dual-sport ability puts him in rarified company in San Luis Obispo County.
He is just the fourth athlete to win County Player of the Year awards in multiple sports, joining Atascadero’s Shawna Robinson (girls basketball and softball in 1997) and Scott McClain (baseball in 1989 and 1990, and football in 1989), in addition to San Luis Obispo’s Tim Kubinski (baseball alongside McClain in 1990 and basketball in 1989 and 1990).
Not the most vocal player in the huddle, Gaither exudes a quiet confidence that’s been growing since he started going one-on-one with some of the top talent in the state at Nike football camps in Los Angeles and Oakland as a sophomore.
He also showcased his skills — in both sports — at various college camps across the West Coast, and he said he’s been in contact with scouts from the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays in anticipation of June’s 2015 MLB Draft.
Just like an improved eye at the plate helped Gaither hit .500 in addition to his 32 stolen bases and 40 runs on the diamond in 2014, an increased attention to route running these past two years afforded him space to rack up yards underneath prevent coverage bent on not letting him go deep.
“It’s so much more than just running a route,” he said. “Anyone can run a 10-yard out, but it’s how you run it. People see it as one big picture, but it’s all the little things that make the plays happen.”
• • •When you pray so hard, and you’ve come so far
And you know that it’s the time for you to lift your bar
And I’m gonna do it
• • •
For Gaither and the other 26 seniors on the Bearcats roster, anything less than a CIF-
Southern Section Northern Division title would have been a disappointing end to their high school careers.
That was the mindset and message pulsating throughout the locker room and practice field from Day 1, and that was right around the time Gaither started turning in highlight reel performances on a regular basis.
He needed just four catches to rack up 148 yards and two scores in the season-opening win over Clovis.
In a Week 2 victory over Camarillo, his 90-yard streak down the field gave the Bearcats the cushion they needed to hold on for a 41-35 final.
Back-to-back three-touchdown games against Nordhoff and Morro Bay ushered in the league schedule, where there was his memorable fumble scoop-and-score 70-yard scamper and two-point conversion to beat Arroyo Grande followed by the 74-yard catch and 96-yard kickoff return to single handily keep Paso Robles afloat in the loss to Atascadero.
“My goal was 20 (touchdowns), and I got 20 right at the end of the season,” Gaither said. “Then I was like, imagine if I got 30, and I thought there was no way.”
He scored eight times in the opening two rounds of the postseason, including five in a 49-16 second-round romp over Palmdale.
He took a pitch, ran up the middle and churned his legs for his 29th score midway through the Northern Division semifinals at Arroyo Grande.
Touchdown No. 30 ripped the hearts out of the Eagles for a second time this season, when he hurdled a defender before sprinting 62 yards up the sideline to give Paso Robles a decisive 28-21 lead with 42 seconds remaining.
In a muck-filled championship at War Memorial Stadium against Newbury Park, Gaither was held out of the end zone, but might have turned in his most defining performance.
Filling in for injured running back Christian Erickson, Gaither showed a determination and a toughness otherwise not seen from his normal location on the perimeter.
He carried 28 times for 206 yards, leaning forward prior to each snap to get his feet unstuck from the mud before rushing head-on into a sea of bodies.
“I was there for that game against Newbury Park, and his ability to adapt and do whatever it took for his team in big games was phenomenal,” Johnston said. “Not every high school kid can step into as many roles as he did, and certainly not many can be as effective as he was.”
The new role did take a toll, however, as a helmet to the right thigh midway through the game left Gaither with a noticeable limp and a deep bruise.
He persevered to finish the game and help clinch that championship ring the Bearcats so desperately strived for, but the pain was too great to play through in the following week’s Division 3 regional bowl game at Lakeside El Captain.
“We thought he might be able to go, but he was in tears trying to put pressure on it while making cuts in warm-ups,” Schimke said. “For as tough as he is and proved to be, if he says he can’t go, then I know he can’t go.”
So Gaither watched from the sideline as Paso Robles’ dream season came to a nightmarish end in a 41-0 defeat.
But you wouldn’t know the year ended with such a loss when the reserved yet assured senior reflects on the final five months of his prep football career.
The team accomplished what it set out to do, and for as many personal achievements that helped pave that road and define that journey, that’s what Gaither said he will cherish most.
“We just wanted to hold nothing back and at the end of the game, look in the mirror and just say I left it all on the field,” he said. “If we lose, we lose, and if we win, we win. We got 13 of those wins, so I’d say it was pretty good.”
• • •I know it’s my time
And it’s now or never
Shine so bright, I light the night
And it feels so right, ain’t nothing better
THE TRIBUNE ALL COUNTY FIRST TEAM
QB — Matt Albright (Nipomo, Sr.)
RB — Marc Martin (Atascadero, Jr.)
RB — Christian Erickson (Paso Robles, Soph.)
FB — Ethan Hicks (Atascadero, Sr).
TE — Jonathan Baldwin (Paso Robles, Sr.)
WR — Nick Kimball (Nipomo, Sr.)
WR — Nate Greenelsh (San Luis Obispo, Sr.)
OL — Jordan Burbank (Paso Robles, Sr.)
OL —Shereef Wahba (Mission Prep, Sr.)
OL — Kyle Townsen (Atascadero, Jr.)
OL — Josh Day (Arroyo Grande, Jr.)
OL — Ely-jah Pu’a (Nipomo, Jr.)
All-purpose — Jordan Harrigan, (Arroyo Grande, Sr.)
K — Bryce Pasky (Paso Robles, Sr.)
DL — Michael Horne (Paso Robles, Sr.)
DL — Teddy Rose (Atascadero, Jr.)
DL — Trajan Beecham (Morro Bay, Sr.)
DL — Matt Sparks (Nipomo, Sr.)
DL — Cole Cunningham (Arroyo Grande, Jr.)
LB — Josh Oliver (Paso Robles, Sr.)
LB — Ryan Teixeira (Arroyo Grande, Sr.)
LB — Easton Coy (Templeton, Sr.)
LB — Terry Wambolt (Nipomo, Jr.)
DB — Bradley Mickey (Arroyo Grande, Jr.)
DB — Peyton Witcher (Nipomo, Sr.)
DB — Benny Willkomm (Arroyo Grande, Jr.)
DB — Elijah Garcia (Morro Bay, Sr.)
P — Cole Ramey (Arroyo Grande, Sr.)
QB — Sawyer May (Arroyo Grande, Soph.)
RB — Chris Owens (Nipomo, Sr.)
RB — Will Unks, (Morro Bay, Sr.)
FB — Joey DeLaRosa (Arroyo Grande, Jr.)
WR — Christian Hauser (Templeton, Sr.)
WR — Cooper Kuhnle (Atascadero, Sr.)
WR — Brandon Hettenhouser (Nipomo, Sr.)
OL — Tyler West (Atascadero, Sr.)
OL — Luis Alvarado (Paso Robles, Sr.)
OL — Nathan Pino (Arroyo Grande, Sr.)
OL — Adrian Astorga (Morro Bay, Sr.)
OL — David Chellsen (San Luis Obispo, Sr.)
K — Isaac Manaputy (Morro Bay, Jr.)
All-purpose — Tommy Carr (Atascadero, Sr.)
DL — Joseph Cassacca (Mission Prep, Sr.)
DL — Jordan Liberatore (Morro Bay, Sr.)
DL — Mike Ingstrom (Templeton, Jr. )
DL — Evan Espinoza (Paso Robles, Jr.)
DL — David Leon (Nipomo, Jr.)
LB — Matt Keller (Paso Robles, Jr.)
LB — Sam Ness (Arroyo Grande, Soph.)
LB — Nick Ducasse (Atascadero, Sr.)
LB — Kai Givogue (Nipomo, Sr.)
LB — Karson Block (Atascadero, Sr.)
DB — Trevor Torres (Paso Robles, Sr.)
DB — Nick DeRose (Atascadero, Sr.)
DB — Parker Gray (Paso Robles, Sr.)
P — Justin McKeague (Mission Prep, Jr.)
QB — Justin Davis (Paso Robles, Jr.); Jordan Bernal (Templeton, Jr.); Gunnar Griffin (Templeton, Sr.)
RB — R.J. Reusche (Atascadero, Jr.); Nate Avery (Templeton, Soph.); Dyllan Smiley (Mission Prep, Sr.); Alex Cecchi (Arroyo Grande, Jr.)
WR — Harrison Labastida (Nipomo, Sr.); Patrick Miller (Mission Prep, Jr.)
TE — Carson Brown (Mission Prep, Sr.); Dante Cappellano (San Luis Obispo, Sr.)
OL — Elias Guzman (Nipomo, Sr.); Gavin Angello (Arroyo Grande, Sr.); McKay Richey (Atascadero, Sr.); Anthony Chausse (Templeton, Sr.)
DL — Isaiah White (Arroyo Grande, Jr.); Tannen Soojian (Atascadero, Jr.); Conrad Ochotorena (Mission Prep, Jr.)
LB — Mario Baragon (Morro Bay, Sr.); Brody Camping (Templeton, Sr.); Clint Howland (Templeton, Jr.); Thomas Fuentez (Arroyo Grande, Sr.)
DB — James Zanoli (San Luis Obispo, Sr.); Jimmy Pineo (Nipomo, Soph.)