Tragedy drives Laurel native Omar Bayless to stunning senior season

Tragedy drives Laurel native Omar Bayless to stunning senior season

LAUREL, Miss. (WDAM) - “[He was] very quiet and sneaky,” said Angela Page, the mother of Arkansas State senior wide receiver Omar Bayless. “He’s been on the quiet side the whole time, his whole life.”

As that worn out saying goes, Bayless prefers to let his play do the talking.

Boy, has he worn out defensive backs this season. In 2019, Bayless set Sun Belt records for:

  • Most single-season receiving yards (1,473)
  • Most single-season receiving touchdowns (16)
  • Most 100-yard receiving games in a season (7)

Coupled with Arkansas State records for most receiving touchdowns in a career (25) and in a game (4), Bayless was the clear choice for Sun Belt player of the year.

His FBS-leading receiving yards also helped him become the first Red Wolf to earn AP All-American honors since Charlie Frederick in 1987.

Folks back in Laurel saw the potential in Bayless. However, few colleges did. It took a Missouri assistant placing a call to Blake Anderson for the Red Wolves to catch on.

The first-time head coach was quickly taking a trip from Jonesboro to Jones County.

“Coach Anderson came down when we were having our football banquet and helped me set up tables,” Breland said. “Missouri contacted coach Anderson, he drove down, picked [Bayless] up the next night.”

“By the time I went home for my basketball game that I had on Friday, I had called him the next morning and told him, ‘I’m coming to Arkansas State,’” Bayless said.

Five years after helping Laurel win the class 5A state championship, Bayless enjoys a career campaign in his year of college football.

It’s an unforgettable season that almost never happened.

In April of 2018, one of Bayless’ former Laurel teammates Vincent McGill was shot and killed. A few months later, his cousin passed away. Then he lost his uncle, and in August another high school friend.

Football suddenly meant nothing to Bayless he was set on never returning to Arkansas State.

“It was like everything was happening when he was away,” Page said. “To him and his mindset, if I’m at home, it won’t happen. I just told him he just had to pray.”

“Sometimes these kids think that they can come home and all the problems will be solved,” Breland said. “But understand he had to go take care of himself and do what Omar had to do.”

A year of football later, more loss came his way. Just before the season, coach Anderson's wife Wendy – who Bayless grew close to – passed away after a battle with breast cancer. A week later, his friend Justin Mack was shot to death in Waynesboro.

The same day as Mack’s funeral in Laurel – August 31 – Bayless caught ten passes for 132 yards and four touchdowns. It marked the beginning of a season dedicated to loved ones lost and those who never counted him out.

“God has a plan to put us where we’re supposed to be when we’re supposed to be there,” Breland said. “And that was certainly, I think, this plan. I’m proud just to know his story.”

“Omar’s a hard worker and he doesn’t ask for a lot, he doesn’t complain,” Page said. “I’m extremely proud.”

“A lot of people heard my story and the things I went through and they’ve been uplifting me about those things,” Bayless said. “It’s just been real here, you know.”

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