Miami star defensive tackle/end Allen Bailey will have several family members watching as he plays Georgia Tech on Saturday. They’ll travel from the tiny Hog Hammock community of Sapelo Island, Ga., where the Geechee culture survives as a legacy of slaves from West Africa.
People in Miami don’t always understand where I come from. I just try to tell them how to get there first. Sometimes they don’t believe there are islands in Georgia. I have Googled the map to show them.
Miami life is fast, but where I’m from is country, slow-down life. It’s a lot more quiet, more outdoors, real nature stuff. No stop signs or red lights.
The majority of people come to the island by ferry, although some have their own boat. My dad Alfred is about to retire as the first mate on the ferry. My mom Mary works on the island at the Reynolds Mansion, as a cook. They’ll come see me play at Georgia Tech along with a few of my six brothers and sisters
We have always lived there and I’m pretty much kin to everybody. It’s natural that everyone knows everyone. I have to break this down to people in Miami. It’s just closer in the upbringing, how they want to keep [Sapelo] like it is. They don’t want paved roads like in a city.
Growing up, I played yard ball with my brothers, sisters and cousins. I didn’t have the opportunity for Little League like other folks. I didn’t play real football until 7th grade.
In high school I played football at McIntosh Academy on the mainland and stayed with a teammate in Darien because by the time practice was over, there wasn’t time to go home. So because of football, I grew up half the time off the island. Now I go home about four times a year. I don’t get homesick.
I’m never home for Thanksgiving and have missed all but one Christmas since I’ve been in college. Everyone misses their mom’s cooking. On holidays we have the regular mac and cheese, turkey, ham, collards and sometimes something out of the ordinary like possum or raccoon. Of course we have fish all the time.
In May, I will be the first of my family to graduate college. My major is liberal arts. I will go home for at least a week or so. I don’t know what I’ll do next. Depends on where the road takes me, to the NFL draft and all that. I’m not saying anything, just one day at a time.
I know the whole island is proud of me. When I decided to leave, I made that decision on my own. They were there with me, but it was on me. But they raised me to be a responsible child, not a troublemaker.
I have been happy in Miami. The transition to a city didn’t really affect me. I liked meeting new people and getting used to the weather. Georgia is hot, but it’s not as humid as south Florida.
-- As told to Michelle Hiskey