Bailey goes from Iraq to the SEC

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- One of the more compelling stories on Mississippi State's team this season is senior defensive end Tim Bailey, who's slated to start at left end.

Bailey, who will turn 24 later this month, didn't play football in 2004 and 2005 and instead served an 18-month active duty assignment with the Mississippi National Guard. He was in Iraq for a year and drove cargo trucks and fuel trucks.

Needless to say, he has a pretty healthy perspective on where football fits into the grand scheme of things.

"It was pretty rough over there," Bailey said. "When you have bad days over here, they really don't seem so bad."

Bailey was on the road a lot in Iraq, one of the most dangerous places to be, and said the place where he stayed was right in the middle of the combat zone.

"We got mortared a lot," he said. "You never get used to that."

About two weeks before he was scheduled to return home, one mortar landed some 20 feet away. Bailey scrambled to a bunker and watched in horror as six or seven more rounds came flying in.

"I really didn't start counting the days down until I went home in September for two weeks, and after that when I got back over there, that's when I really started counting them down," Bailey said.

Mississippi State held a place for Bailey while he served his duty. He'd played at Mississippi Delta Community College in 2003 and attracted several offers, but the Bulldogs were the only ones who seemed interesting in waiting.

Bailey, never envisioning that he would be a major-college prospect, joined the National Guard in high school a few days after he turned 17. A few weeks later, the World Trade Center towers came crashing down in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I still keep up with what's going on over there the best I can," Bailey said. "When I'm not practicing football, I'm watching CNN. There are four or five guys I was over there with that I'm still real close to."

One of those is his best friend, Steven Vaughn of Memphis, who's since returned to Iraq.

"I hope they all come back soon," Bailey said.