By Jose Trujillo (@jAy_Ay_T):
It’ hasn’t all been bad.
A difficult non-conference schedule featuring three top 25 schools, alongside injuries and missed opportunities on the field have led to a 1-5 start for San Jose State football.
Despite the struggles, the Spartans have shown flashes of fielding a team with playmakers. One of them is tied for the lead in touchdowns and is eighth in receiving yards in the Mountain West Conference.
His name is Bailey Gaither, and the speedy junior wide receiver has proved to be the Spartans top offensive weapon. But it wasn’t always like that.
The Paso Robles native signed a National Letter of Intent with the program in February of 2015. After redshirting his freshman year, Gaither played all 12 games as a sophomore, but only started one against Iowa State. Through his first two seasons at SJSU, Gaither had a meager four catches.
“Taking the next leap to the collegiate level was definitely a big step, my first year, and my second year as well,” Gaither said. “It was hard with the timing [and] it was super fast — it took some time for me to adjust.”
To adapt to the physicality of Division 1 college football, Gaither put an emphasis on getting stronger this past offseason.
“I knew I had the speed, but I think that my size was a little small, so putting on a few pounds really helped me,” Gaither said. “I could now hold my weight on the field. I feel much stronger.”
It’s one thing to talk about it, but he is also proving it. Through five games, Gaither has 21 rec, 314 yds and 4 TD while also taking on the kickoff and punt return duties.
For tight end Josh Oliver, this comes to no surprise. A teammate of Gaither’s throughout pop-warner and high school, Oliver is accustomed to Gaither’s work ethic and playmaking ability.
“I’ve been seeing it since youth football,” Oliver said. “He has always been the same dude with the same speed. Just faster than most.”
San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan knew very little of Gaither when first examining the roster. But once spring ball came around, Brennan liked what he saw.
“He hadn’t played much before, but when we got to spring practice, we noticed that he was one of the tougher guys at the receiver position,” Brennan said. “In my experience, the best indicator of future performance is current performance, and he kept making play after play.”
What’s also exciting about Gaither’s play so far is that he’s still learning and gaining experience every day, both in practice and in games.
“He is still learning how to use his speed and quickness. He has not played a lot of football,” Brennan said. “This is his first season getting any real minutes. We are all excited about his development.”
The physical aspect of Gaither’s game should continue to improve. But this all starts with his mindset. Even though the team has struggled, Gaither believes the team can learn and improve from all its defeats.
“We have to work through adversity. There will always be hard times throughout the season,” Gaither said. “We just have to look back at what we have done and how hard we worked.”
That same school of thought is why Gaither has quintupled the amount of catches he had during his first two seasons. He has been here before, as a freshman and sophomore fighting through adversity, trying to crack the starting lineup.
Brennan feels that athletes who have not achieved their goals can learn from Gaither’s improvement.
“Everybody is always in a constant mode of developing,” Brennan said. “Just because you have not had a certain level of success on the field to a certain point, does not mean you can’t work your tail off, improve and get better.”
Gaither has proven that.
And for the rest of the season, opposing defenses will need to watch out for number 84 because whether it is in the slot, on the outside or returning kickoffs and punts, the Spartans will continue to rely on their breakout playmaker.