hen Ricky Bailey dropped back to receive the first punt of the game here last week, he carried with him the most remarkable statistics compiled in years by a high school player on the Eastern Shore, and probably anywhere else in Virginia.
One hundred six touchdowns rushing and passing . . . 5,391 yards rushing . . . 1,982 yards passing. . . 47 interceptions as a free safety, 23 this year.
No high school player has ever intercepted as many passes in a season, and only a handful, including Bobby Mitchell and Billy Sims, ever rushed for more yards.
So for the punter, the strategy was obvious. He kicked the ball into the stands.
Later punts went short, to the left, to the right -- anywhere but to Bailey.
Unfortunately for West Point High School, it could not keep the ball away from Bailey often enough to prevent him from leading Central High School to a 40-8 victory in the Region A semifinal. Bailey accounted for three touchdowns, two running and one passing. He rushed for 223 yards on 17 carries and passed for 69 yards.
Although he has had more spectacular games, Bailey showed why college scouts have come from as far away as Las Vegas to see him play.
Running options and rollouts from the quarterback position, Bailey consistently got through and around a befuddled West Point team. In the first half, after Central had allowed only its second touchdown of the season, Bailey took command, ending a long drive with a completion on fourth down and eight that set up Central's go-ahead touchdown. Other times, Bailey merely dropped back into the shotgun, took the snap and ran.
Once Bailey showed West Point he could do anything he wanted any time he wanted, the game was over. After a while, it was enough just for him to be on the field. So intense was the Pointers' concentration on him that Central's Keven Baylis, a fullback of extraordinary determination but average talents, ran right by them for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
"Ricky makes all of us look good," Baylis said later.
Central High School, in the Eastern Shore town of Painter, has a graduating class of 70. The football roster lists 29 players. Nine players play both offense and defense. There is no locker room, no gym, no track, no practice field. The band has eight members, and their ancient instruments make them sound like a gramophone blaring on the 50-yard line.
Coach George Strand doesn't use a shuttle system to send plays. He just shouts them to his star quarterback and doesn't give a hoot who overhears.
Jim Prince, a recruiter from James Madison University, calls Bailey "a great player."
Noting the difficulty that players from out-of-the-way towns have in attracting the attention of college scouts, Prince said, "If you play on this level, against small schools, you have to be able to dominate and that's exactly what he's done."
Bailey, who played running back for two years and then moved to quarterback so he could handle the ball more, is a strong, poised runner who seems to know precisely when to change direction. The only potential weakness coaches or scouts mention is his unspectacular speed.
At 5 feet 10, 185 pounds, Bailey has had little of the rigorous, even scientific, training that some players get to improve their strength and speed.
"He's never lifted a single weight that I know of," said Strand. "We didn't want to toy around with him much. That will come later."
Prince agreed: "He'll improve. You give him the ball 15 or 20 times a game and he'll break it open at least a couple of times . . . He runs a lot like Archie Griffin used to. He has a lot of power. He won't run past the sprinters in the defensive backfield but he's fast enough."
Principal John Parsons says he and Strand have received "serious inquiries" about Bailey from more than 25 schools, including Maryland, Pittsburgh, Clemson, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
"The letters come like rain," said Parsons.
"We'll offer him everything," said Prince.
It isn't hard to be a little puzzled by the way everyone at Central -- from coach to cheerleader -- regards and protects Bailey, 18.
They say he is "level-headed" and "easygoing," that he has a C-plus average "with a load of common sense." They all know colleges are looking for him, and they all know what fortune can come to a college football standout, but they insist, "He never thinks about that."
"As a kid, I always thought about playing pro ball," Bailey said recently. "I still have that dream but I don't think about it much. I've got to get there first."
When he says that, Bailey seems to need to believe it. He wants badly for undefeated Central to win the Class A state championship. Last year Central lost, 21-20, in the final to Fluvanna.
His father works as a landscaper, his mother drives a school bus. He has five brothers and sisters. There are many Bailey wants to help, but he has seen how opportunities can be lost or squandered.
Bailey's older brother Lewis "was just as good as Ricky, take or add a few," said Parsons. But Lewis left North Carolina A&T in 1970 for academic reasons and has been working as a laborer near Painter ever since.
"I want Ricky to know that the ability will only last for a few seconds," said Parsons, who coached football for 22 years.
Parsons slammed his fist on his desk. "I want him to know that if you can add, subtract, divide and multiply, you can make your own way. I've been there baby, I've been there."
Parsons and Strand have helped guide their prize quarterback all along, yet Ricky Bailey seems to have understood himself from the start.
He came out late for football in his freshman year and played only one game.
"I didn't want to rush things," he said.
In that first game, Bailey carried the ball twice and gained 69 yards. He scored two touchdowns.