March 30, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Vol redshirt freshman thrower Tavis Bailey had a long time for anticipation to build before last weekend's SEC/Big Ten Challenge.
The 6-foot-3, 295-pound product of Kannapolis, N.C., spent last year playing football at Lenoir-Rhyne University, only to decide after the season ended that he wanted to turn his focus back to a promising throwing career. After competing unattached and performing well at the 2011 Raleigh Relays, he realized he had a real chance at doing well on a Division I track & field team. A year later, that decision to switch sports appears to be a solid one.
After deciding to transfer and throw at Tennessee, Bailey sat out the indoor season while his teammates were on the road competing, waiting for his chance to compete. That time, which he considered an opportunity for extra training, paid off with a second-place finish in the discus throw (173-11) and eighth place in the shot put (51-8 1/4) at the outdoor-opening SEC/Big Ten Challenge on March 23.
Bailey sat down to answer a few questions after practice this week, as he was preparing for Saturday's double dual meet with UCLA and Washington State in Los Angeles.
When did you know you wanted to compete in track and field?
"From the very beginning. It all started in seventh grade. My mom suggested I go out and run and get fit and get in shape. I wasn't as in shape as I am now, but as a bigger guy going out in seventh grade, they pointed me in the direction of the throwers. That afternoon, I came home and told my mom I was throwing shot put and discus."
When did you start training to throw and when did you begin strength training for it?
"I was more of a football player growing up, so when I got to high school, I started doing a lot of strength training and lifting. I really didn't get seriously into track & field until probably about the very beginning of my junior year of high school. That's when I got my throwing shoes and starting watching videos online. That's when I made my biggest improvements."
How do you start training to throw discus?
"I had a coach in high school who helped me out a little bit, and then online videos and watching professional throwers and comparing them to me was a big part of it."
You played football at Lenoir-Rhyne. What position did you play there? Have you competed in other sports beyond that and throwing?
"I was a center and guard in football. I haven't competed in anything other than football and track. They were my only sports."
You chose to leave Lenoir-Rhyne to come compete at Tennessee. What caused you to come here?
"I just wasn't liking the football program there. I knew I could do track on a really big scale, like the SEC. My love for football kind of went away there, but I still had a passion for track. So I quit playing football, got my paperwork done, and started to see if I could go somewhere for track."
What is it like working with Coach Frazier?
"It's a lot different of an experience because he's so experienced. He's a veteran of the throwing world; he's been around so long and knows so much. Now I've come along and I barely know anything about throwing, still. He says a lot of stuff and he rides me pretty hard, but I know it's all for the better. He's definitely made me a lot better athlete and thrower, and a better person than I was when I got here."
Do you have any pre-throw or pre-meet superstitions or rituals?
"I did a lot in high school, but not so much anymore. I know now that if I do what he tells me to do, and keep working hard, that in the meet I'll throw well."
Do you get nervous before you throw?
"Not really at all. It's just a competition."
What's it like being a thrower at UT with the throw corps we have?
"It's definitely a great experience. There's talent around me. My roommates are throwers. It's just a good experience being surrounded by people trying to do the same thing you do. I have Matthew Hoty and Deon McAdoo living with me, and at nights we'll sit and talk about practice or talk about throwing and our goals. We talk about what's happening in the throwing world. It's a fully rounded experience because we go from practice to weights to eat together, and then we'll all head back and end up in the room about the same time at night, and it's a routine that helps. And there's also Drew Thomas, who is also throwing, and Annie and Laquoya to look up to. If I ever have a question or need something, they're here. Over the summer, when I first got here, Annie was still here preparing for her national meet, so we had some bonding moments. She taught me a lot about what to expect at this level of competition."
What's your favorite thing about throwing?
"The fact that it's man-to-man competition. He does what he does, I'll do what I do, and we'll see who rises victorious at the end."
Do fans and cheering affect your throwing at all?
"They do. If I'm having a good day and I'm hitting the positions I need to hit and having a good feeling, when the fans are clapping or cheering me on, it helps. It helps with the mental game when you're in there."
If you could try any track and field event other than throwing, what would you want to try?
"I'm not really a runner, so I would have to go for pole vault, but I don't think there are poles big enough. I might try the 60-meter dash, because it's not that long. If there was a throwers relay for the 60-meter dash, I would definitely try that. I would love to try the pole vault if you could find a big enough pole. Our pole vaulters are pretty cool."
What do you like to do in Knoxville when you aren't in class or training?
"Really, it's just sleep and lounge around. After training, I'm just wiped out. Sometimes I'll watch video at night, or my roommates and I will watch TV and talk about throwing and practice and previous meet experience. It's just a relaxed and chill experience."
What is your favorite sport to play, or just watch, other than throwing?
Right now, it's March Madness, so that's what I've been watching lately. My favorite sport to watch is probably football, because it was what I liked to do at one time. There's not a part of me that wants to play anymore. There's always going to be a part of me that loves the game, but there's not a part of me that wants to give up what I have going here to pursue football. I don't have a preference between NCAA or NFL, just so long as there's talent on the field, I'll enjoy watching it."
Who are some athletes you admire?
"Of course, I look up to other discus throwers. For a while, I looked up to Gerd Kanter just because he has the most videos I could find easily online. Reese Hoffa, even though he's a shot putter. Adam Nelson, who is an older guy who's still throwing shot put. That's kind of it."
Do you have any nicknames?
"Coach Frazier has an array of nicknames, but other than that, not really."
What's something interesting about you that many people may not know?
"I'm really goofy. Sometimes I get really scatterbrained. My closer friends always notice that if I'm not really focused on something, I zone out and completely forget what I was doing."
What's the one thing you can't live without?
"I guess sleep. I find myself tired a lot. I probably would feel rough trying to go without sleep. Maybe apple juice, I drink a lot of apple juice."
What do you think about during a throw?
"I try to think about what Coach Frazier has been telling me to do. I try to keep one or two, possibly three things, in my head, that are keys of what I messed up on previous throws, and use that to improve on this throw. If I keep the three things in mind, the throw itself will be either better or something else to build off of in my next throw."
What would be on the dinner table and who would be there if you were having your ideal meal?
"It would probably be a very cultural, African-American cultured meal, with fried chicken, mac and cheese, collard greens, and cornbread. It sounds like a pretty good meal. My mom, my family, my grandmother would be there. Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Coach Frazier would show up. Maybe Reese Hoffa would show up, hopefully. Common, the rapper, would be there, definitely."
Last summer, you represented Tennessee for the first time at the USA Junior Championships. What was that like, finishing fifth for the U.S.? "It was a great experience. Competing on the national level is always a great experience. There was a lot that went into it. It was a different experience. Coming here was already a huge adjustment, and to get used to all the things that were going on here, and then it was another huge adjustment to get used to how they do things here on the road and how they travel here. Just a lot went into the meet beyond training and lifting weights."
You had to sit through the whole indoor season before competing last weekend at the SEC-Big Ten Challenge. How hard was that, and how did you get through that while your teammates were away competing?
"It was a really rough experience because they were all coming back, telling stories about funny things that happened at the meet with Coach Frazier and people throwing really far throws. It was rough at first, realizing that I wasn't going to be able to compete. My roommates and everybody was gone on the weekend. Eventually, I got through it and bonded with Joe Franklin, an upperclassman distance runner on the team. Training pretty hard helped me get through it, too. I knew that once I did open up, and once I did get my chance, I wanted to come out strong. What really got me through it was thinking of it as extra training time. Coach Frazier and I approached it like it was extra time to get ready and come out stronger."
You finished second in the discus and eighth in the shot. How did it feel to compete for Tennessee in a college meet? How did you feel about your performance?
"It was definitely a really good experience. It was a lot of hard work, peaking at one time. I know that I still have a long road ahead of me to reach my full goals. It could have been a lot worse, but I'm completely content with how it went. I had PRs in both events, which doesn't really happen for throwers, so there are really no complaints at all. I want to improve on my performance mainly. I know I earned some good rankings out of it, but I want to keep going and get better."
What are your expectations for the season?
"I want to do really well at SECs and NCAAs. I want to become an All-American and place top five, hopefully, in the discus. I want to place top three and try to win an SEC title in the discus, and possibly qualify for NCAAs in the shot put, or top five in the SEC in shot put. I definitely have high goals for both of them, but my discus goals are my bigger goals of the two."