MORGANTOWN - Stedman Bailey figures that since he came in with Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, it's only fitting that he goes out with them.
Bailey, who red-shirted his first year with the West Virginia University football team, said Monday that he will be entering the NFL draft after the Mountaineers take on Syracuse Dec. 29 in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in New York.
"It was hard," Bailey said. "I would like to do all I can to help the guys here. But this in the right decision for me. I thought about it quite a bit, and I came to the conclusion that this is the right season to do it."
Bailey will leave as the most prolific scorer among all WVU wide receivers, having pulled in 23 touchdown passes this season and 39 during his career. A finalist for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver, Bailey earned All-America status on CBSSports.com's first team and Walter Camp's and FoxSports.com's second team. He was also a first-team pick to the Big 12 Conference team after catching 106 passes for 1,501 yards. He had double-digit reception totals in five of WVU's 12 games, including a school-record 14 against Oklahoma State.
Those totals came after a sophomore season in which Bailey caught 72 passes for 1,279 yards and 12 touchdowns. Bailey has caught at least one pass in every game in which he has worn a Mountaineer uniform, and he will be leaving with the third highest total (202 catches) in school history.
"He's had two tremendous years in a row," WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. "I'm sure his relationship with Geno had something to do with it. I didn't discourage him. It would not have been fair to talk him out of it."
Smith, who was also a high school teammate of Bailey's in Miramar, Fla., said he supports Bailey's decision "100 percent.
"If he likes it, then I love it," Smith said. "I know he is one of the best receivers I have ever seen. He does things on the field that catch your eye. But it might not look impressive because he does it so smooth. He might not have blazing speed, but you're not going to catch him from behind."
Bailey recently became a father to a baby boy, and he said that also played into his decision to turn pro.
"I don't think my stock is going to go much higher," Bailey said, noting that his preliminary paperwork projected him as a third-round choice. "With the year I am having this year, I don't think it could get much better."
Holgorsen said Bailey will be treated as if he were a senior in these final days leading up to the bowl game.
"I support him fully," Holgorsen said. "When you put two good years together as a receiver, you've got a chance to do well at the next level. He will represent West Virginia well for some time to come."