WCIA — Illinois true freshman Matthew Bailey thought he blew his chance to play for the Illini when he worked out last summer at Memorial Stadium in front of the Illinois coaches.

“I was like, ‘Wow, I’m never going to get looked at from Illinois again,'” Bailey said.

The defensive back drove three hours from his hometown of Moline after competing in a track meet.

“Matt will tell you, it wasn’t the greatest workout,” defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said. “His legs were dead.”

Walters wasn’t there during Matt’s unofficial visit. But after looking at his film, head coach Bret Bielema sent him to watch Bailey workout again. That’s when everything changed.

“I remember calling him and being like, ‘Coach this a no-brainer. We’ve got to sign this guy,'” Walters said.

Once the Illini offered, Bailey was all in.

“The sun came out of the clouds and tears started rolling down and it was a great moment,” Bailey said.

Now, he’s got a chance of seeing the field after an impressive training camp. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound true freshman played with the first team when starter Sydney Brown was out, even earning Bailey the nickname ‘Syd 2.0.’

“Rent is due. I have to prove why I should be with the 1’s and 2’s,” Bailey said.

“I don’t like to put a lot of pressure on freshman a lot, I’m not building up anything that’s not there, but he’s a pretty mature kid that’s got a lot of good football in front of him,” Bielema said. “Ironic how the world works. In recruiting, he might’ve been one of our last signees, but I would predict when his time is up, there’s probably going to be 32 teams that are going to ask a lot of questions about him in the end.”

And that’s some high praise for a freshman who thought he blew his chance with the Orange and Blue.