May 5, 2015

Rasheed Bailey and Aaron Wilmer dream of next level

(L) Aaron Wilmer and Rasheed Bailey - Photo courtesy of DelVal Sports Information
Aaron Wilmer drops back to pass and throws a perfect spiral to Rasheed Bailey just as Bailey comes out of his break on an inside post pattern. Bailey catches the ball in stride and continues running up the field.

It is a play that the two have run for four years on the Delaware Valley game and practice fields during the season, in the gymnasium in the winter and on fields in Philadelphia in the summer. It's what helped them put up record-breaking numbers and earn accolade after accolade while helping lead the Aggies to a pair of NCAA Division III playoff appearances in their four years.

However, lately the audience isn't the vocal DelVal crowd or their coaches and teammates. It's been pro scouts with clipboards and stopwatches in their hands. And it's even been Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and his staff of coaches and scouts at an individual workout that Bailey and Wilmer were recently invited to.

Could it actually happen? Could either Bailey or Wilmer, or both, hear their name called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the late rounds of the NFL Draft on May 2 when rounds four through seven take place? If not, will they get a call shortly after by a team or teams looking to sign them as an unrestricted free agent? If not the NFL, how about the Canadian Football League where players have made a good living and some have later moved to the NFL after proving themselves?

It's been a long time since a DelVal player or players were in this situation. The last to sign as an NFL free agent was 6-foot-9, 325-pound offensive lineman Steve Wagner, who the Eagles brought to their training camp as a free agent back in 1993. Before that was Chuck Alpuche by the Detroit Lions in 1981. In the 1960s, Aggie standouts such as the brother tandem of Bill and Ted Cottrell were drafted by NFL teams and saw playing time.

It was a dream for those players then and it would be a dream come true now for both Bailey and Wilmer. All they are looking for is a chance and it takes just one team to see the potential in them and give them the opportunity that they desire and think about every waking minute.

Who would've thought of that when they first walked onto campus in the fall of 2011. Bailey played tight end and was under the radar at Roxborough High School in Philadelphia when then offensive coordinator and current head coach Duke Greco recruited him to come to Doylestown. Wilmer went from George Washington High School in Philadelphia to Division II West Chester University, where he redshirted his first year. He decided to transfer to DelVal, where he had been highly recruited by Greco out of high school.

The two players were immediately drawn to each other on and off the field.

"When we first got here, we connected and each year it grew and we grew," Bailey said.

Boy, did it grow on the field. When their four years of collegiate eligibility were up, both players etched their names among the best to suit up in an Aggie uniform. And they capped it all with a senior year to remember.

DelVal's offense exploded in 2014, and Bailey and Wilmer were two reasons why. Bailey shattered the school's single-season receiving marks as he finished the campaign with 80 catches for 1,707 yards and 19 touchdowns. The yardage and touchdown totals led all of Division III, and he also broke or tied the DelVal single-game marks in those categories as well as receptions. For his career, Bailey notched 165 catches for a school-record 3,138 yards and 29 trips to the end zone. He was the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) and Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Player of the Year, the Maxwell Club Tri-State Player of the Year and an All-American on three separate squads. And let's not forget the fact that he was featured in Sports Illustrated's "Faces In The Crowd."

Wilmer completed 185 of 316 passes for 3,228 yards and a school-record 30 touchdowns while also rushing for seven scores. He became just the 26th player in NCAA football history (all divisions) to pass for 10,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a career as he finished with 10,157 passing yards and 1,638 rushing yards for 11,795 yards of total offense. Wilmer was an all-MAC and all-ECAC pick for the fourth straight year and earned all-region accolades as well.

Meanwhile, the two helped lift Delaware Valley to a 9-0 start and eventually a return to the NCAA Division III playoffs, where they first went as freshmen back in 2010.

As the season progressed and the two were putting up video-game like numbers, they started attracting attention from the pro ranks. Scouts from the Eagles, the Indianapolis Colts and other NFL teams began making their way to practices to meet the two, talk to the coaches and watch game film. The scouts liked what they saw and heard.

"We were getting feedback afterwards with the scouts saying things like, ""They have a lot of potential,'" Bailey said. "That just gets you even more motivated and to work even harder."

When the final snap of the season took place, it was just the beginning for Bailey and Wilmer. Both began looking for agents to help promote them and use their contacts to get them in front of the right people. Wilmer signed with Marty Magid, a local agent who has done some work with four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback and Hall of Fame legend Joe Montana. Wilmer also decided to temporarily step away from the classroom in the spring so he could fully concentrate on training, but the sports management major said, "I will come back to finish my degree. No question."

Bailey went a different route while looking for an agent. Ironically, someone who helped him through the process was Ted Cottrell, who works in the NFL office. "He said, 'I have the guy for you – Joe Linta,'" Bailey recalled. "I worked out for Joe, he liked me and I signed the next day." Among Linta's clients in the pro ranks is Baltimore Ravens quarterback and Super Bowl winner Joe Flacco. Bailey has continued with his studies and is set to graduate in May with a degree in marketing.

Bailey's training regimens have taken place at various clubs in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In addition to position drills, he has worked on speed, strength and conditioning, and other areas that scouts would look at during various combines and Pro Days. He worked out with players from higher-level college teams at these training sessions and he not only was keeping pace with them, but also outplaying them.

"It opened my eyes that I was on the same level as them," Bailey said. "It gave me a lot of confidence."

Wilmer mostly worked out in King of Prussia for three hours a day, seven days a week. His agent set him up with a football combine trainer (one who trained former Eagle Brian Westbrook) and they worked on speed, agility, footwork and, of course, throwing.

Both players have drawn attention from various draft websites and have appeared on various podcasts, radio shows and newspaper features. The websites, in particular, have mentioned their strengths (hands, route running, size, etc. for Bailey; arm strength, accuracy and running ability for Wilmer) and also the deficiencies that they would have to overcome.

For Bailey, a lot of talk has been about speed. "Speed is the biggest question mark," he said. "Scouts and others have been saying, 'What's his 40 (40-yard dash time) going to be?'" He has been running in the high 4.5s consistently and scouts would like him trim that down slightly.

For Wilmer, it's been the one area that has plagued him his entire life. "My height," he said with a smile. "It's been the number one knock on me coming out of high school to college and now college to the pros.

"I can't change how tall I am so I need to do everything else to prove myself and have them forget about my size and focus on my football capabilities."

Another area both players have to overcome is the stigma of being a Division III player. Even though there are Division III players scattered among the various NFL rosters, being from a small school and a lower division means more to prove, especially when they go head-to-head in training sessions with higher-level players.

"If we had (University of) Texas warmups on, no one would say anything," Wilmer said. "We're proud to be from D3 and especially proud to be from DelVal."

"It's getting a lot of recognition for the school and for the football program and that's means a lot to me because the school has given me so much," Bailey said.

Both players participated at Villanova's Pro Day on March 30 in front of scouts from nearly every NFL team. The day consisted of the 40-yard dash, 225-pound bench presses (number of reps), vertical jump and other drills, before players got to show off their skills at their various positions. Numerous scouts talked to both afterward and the Eagles followed up with invitations for individual workouts – along with some other local standouts – in front of their brass.

That workout took place on April 8 – the same day their school officially became Delaware Valley University – at the Eagles' NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia, not far from their homes. Both received praise from Kelly and others with the team.

Wilmer also has heard from a lot of CFL teams; and the BC Lions, out of Vancouver, British Columbia, recently picked up his rights (Bailey's interest has come only from NFL squads at this point). With his running ability and the wider fields in the CFL (195 feet, 35 feet wider than the NFL), it's seems like a natural fit.

But the big dream, of course, is the NFL. And, now, it's just a waiting game until Draft Weekend. And if Goodell brings a card to the podium and announces either or both of their names, it will be the end of one incredible journey to get there, and the start of another with the opening act of their professional football careers.

"I've been feeling a lot of emotion," Bailey said. "It's just so exciting to go through all of this. If the time arrives and my name is called at the end of the draft…"

"It's going to be a blessing," Wilmer said. "If this happens…"

Neither finish their statement. They didn't have to.