WCIA — Matthew Bailey wasn’t sure he would ever get the chance to play for the Illini after a workout in front of coaches didn’t go his way, now he’s slotted to be a starter in the secondary in 2023. The Moline native’s world changed rather quickly after a standout freshman season in Orange and Blue, intercepting three passes and scoring a special teams touchdown.

“It’s really an honor to be honest,” Bailey said after the ReliaQuest Bowl, where he picked off his third pass of the season. “I didn’t think I’d be at this point but now that I’m here. I thank God for putting me in this position but all the people around me who have built me up, it’s amazing.”

Bailey was barely recruited out of high school, his only Power 5 offer was from Illinois. The 6-foot-2, 205 pound defensive back made the most of his opportunity though with the Illini, playing all 13 games this fall, even earning the nickname ‘Syd 2.0’ after his play mimicked All-American Sydney Brown. Against Virginia, Bailey became the first true freshman in the nation to record a fumble recovery for a touchdown and an interception in the same game since 2006 (Jerrett Sanderson of Bowling Green vs. FIU).

“It gives me confidence knowing that I’m in that starter’s spot and in that position to make plays that I’m going to getting a lot of reps and obviously all of that has built up but all that experience has helped a lot,” Bailey said about his freshman season going into next fall.