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Georgia high school football stars reunite at UNLV

Harrison Bailey hardly knew Ricky White III the first time he recruited him.

He knew White was one of the best wide receivers in the greater Atlanta area. Figured he would complement the rest of Marietta High School’s pass catchers as a speedy, elusive target.

But the quarterback didn’t have White’s phone number — let alone the trust they share now as UNLV teammates. So Bailey contacted him via Twitter, privately messaging him a proposition: Let’s win a championship at Marietta.

This time, they connected via FaceTime.

Bailey and White have reunited with the Rebels, transferring from Tennessee and Michigan State, respectively. They helped Marietta win Georgia’s big-school state championship in 2019 for the first time since 1967 after White left nearby Wheeler to catch passes from Bailey during their senior seasons.

The two sophomores help comprise a talented group of transfers for the Rebels, who begin spring football practice Tuesday under third-year coach Marcus Arroyo. And with Power Five pedigree, the 20-year-olds figure to compete for starting roles and recapture the chemistry that produced 97 receptions, 1,319 yards and 16 touchdowns the last season they were teammates.

“I know when in doubt, if I need somebody to win for me, I can look to my guy,” said the 6-foot-5-inch, 225-pound Bailey, grinning on a couch inside the Fertitta Football Complex while White sat to his right.

“They’re trying to change the program around, and having a great quarterback is one of the aspects and factors of doing that,” the 6-1, 175-pound White said moments later.

Their last dance?

They hail from Cobb County, Georgia, an area nestled 20 miles northwest of Atlanta and steeped in sporting tradition. Bailey was the prodigy, securing his first Division I scholarship offer — from Miami — before fielding a snap on the varsity level. White was the late bloomer, flourishing as a top talent in his junior season.

The two didn’t have much of a relationship before the 2019 season. Just mutual respect cultivated through competition in camps and passing leagues. But after a playoff loss in the 2018 season, Bailey morphed from four-star quarterback prospect into coach and recruiter by contacting White about leaving Wheeler to play for Marietta.

White was featured offensively at Wheeler, but at Marietta, he could catch passes from the state’s best quarterback and contend for a state title in a receiving corps that included five-star tight end Arik Gilbert.

White contemplated the move for a few weeks and received backing from his parents, who relocated to a residence in Marietta’s zone so their son could play for the state’s best team. White promptly began training with Bailey, catching passes at local fields before finalizing the transfer during the ensuing summer.

Bailey concluded his prep career by throwing for 4,674 yards and 50 touchdowns in the 2019 season. White settled into the slot, devastating opponents with his speed and elusiveness in the open field. The Blue Devils finished 13-2 with the state title.

Marietta secured an invitation to GEICO’s State Champion Bowl Series at Bishop Gorman High School. Bailey and White played what they thought was their final game as teammates — a 53-14 thrashing of Washington’s Eastside Catholic on Dec. 20, 2019.

“That was the last dance,” Bailey said.

Supposed to be, anyway.

Reunited

Bailey and White contributed as freshmen at the next level. Bailey played six games for Tennessee, finishing with 578 yards passing, four touchdowns, two interceptions and a 70.6 completion percentage. White caught eight passes for 196 yards and a TD in a 27-24 victory over Michigan, one of three games in which he played.

But last season seemed to prove they weren’t in their schools’ plans, ultimately triggering their unlikely reunion. Virginia Tech transfer quarterback Hendon Hooker displaced Bailey and relegated him to the sideline — and transfer portal midway through the season.

White didn’t play at all, and his status was never disclosed by Michigan State coach Mel Tucker. He entered the transfer portal in December.

Arroyo had recruited Bailey as Oregon’s offensive coordinator, the position he held for three seasons before coming to UNLV. He re-recruited Bailey, who had reconnected with White amid their decisions to transfer. Bailey recommended White to Rebels coaches and UNLV to White, citing the shared goal of a Mountain West championship.

“It was a no-brainer, basically,” White said.

Bailey and White said they were courted by Power Five programs, but bypassed the glamour and glitz to sign with the Rebels. Bailey said he wants “to build something instead of being a part of something.” That sentiment also resonated with White and helped solidify his commitment three days after Bailey’s.

The two aren’t just teammates this time, either. They’re roommates, eager to re-create their Marietta magic in Las Vegas.

“We’re 1,976 miles away from our house. Our home, home. Now we’re in Vegas chasing our dream,” Bailey said. “Every time we’re going through hard times or whatnot, we just always reflect on where we could be. It drives us to be who we are.”

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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