West Valley High’s Bailey Sulzer is the Shasta County Sports Heisman winner, sponsored by Clear View Auto Glass, earning the award as the best player in the county for the 2018 prep football season. (Photo by T.J. Holmes/Shasta County Sports)
COTTONWOOD – Bailey Sulzer wasn’t satisfied with being a difference-maker. He wanted to leave a legacy.
After a three-year varsity career at West Valley, Sulzer sits second in school history in nearly every rushing stat category behind Eagles’ legend Austin Clark. Sulzer, only five years younger than Clark, once idolized his on-field persona and leadership qualities.
Now, Sulzer’s name is etched in West Valley lore alongside him.
“He’s in the conversation of the best player to ever play here,” said Greg Grandell, who has coached for more than 30 years at West Valley and the past 26 as the head coach. “That says a lot about him.”
Sulzer not only lived up to every expectation in front of him, but guided his team through pain and tragedy of losing teammate Tyson Wacker from a car accident. He did it with a mixture of confidence, determination and maturity. It’s those traits paired with his on-field accomplishments that have led him to being named the inaugural Shasta County Sports Heisman winner, sponsored by Clear View Auto Glass, as the best player in the county for the 2018 prep football season.
“The Heisman is a great honor and I want to give a shout out to the other players in the section, because I don’t think I’d be as good as I am if I didn’t have (competition),” Sulzer said. “I pushed myself because I wanted to be the best.”
And Sulzer certainly was. As the workhorse ’back, everyone knew who was getting the ball. And opponents still couldn’t stop him.
His 2,054 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns on 283 carries were all tops in the Northern Section. He doubled as the heartbeat of West Valley’s ‘The Pack’ defense at inside linebacker where he totaled 150 tackles, three sacks, an interception and forced four fumbles, leading the section’s most-dominant defense to a section title win over rival Sutter, a CIF D-5AA NorCal championship appearance and was named the Northern Athletic League and Northern Section Defensive MVP.
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“He had it all – strength, speed, toughness, great leadership and the most important thing is he’s a man of faith,” Grandell said. “All of those things equal a great leader and a really great player.”
The success didn’t come without sacrifice, though. Sulzer decided to skip wrestling his junior year to focus on football and heal up from a knee injury that hampered him through the 2017 season. Despite winning the NAL and reaching the semifinals, Sulzer was among the section’s best returning players. Except he wasn’t considered the best player in his own school district before the season began.
Anderson’s Parker Phillips earned the top honor in the Shasta County Sports’ preseason player rankings, one spot ahead of Sulzer. He didn’t mind the extra motivation.
“The best thing to happen to us is he was the No. 2 player,” Grandell said. “I loved it. Deep inside maybe he did too. It was something to work for. A lot of people see it as arrogance, wanting to be the best. But that’s not true…He wants to excel for his family, his team and his God. All those things are healthy, good things.”
West Valley’s Bailey Sulzer (13) is the Shasta County Sports Heisman and Defensive MVP. (Photo by Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)
Sulzer made a statement right away, helping West Valley blank Foothill 16-0 in the season-opener, scoring both touchdowns and sealing the game with an interception of Jayden Gordon, the Shasta County Sports Offensive MVP. Sulzer went on to rush for at least 100 yards in 12 of the next 13 games, scored five touchdowns in a win over Corning and shouldered the load in a grueling 7-0 home win over Sutter in the D-III title game with 36 bruising carries on a cold and muddy field.
He had 10 games with at least 17 carries and seven with at least 20, including the final three of the season. He welcomed the bell-cow role and thrived in it.
“My coaches trust me every play day-in and day-out that I’m going to do my job because that’s what it takes,” Sulzer said.
The season ended in a 21-13 NorCal loss to Rio Linda. By then, Sulzer and the Eagles had to endure the loss of Wacker, who died in October after suffering injuries in a car accident. In a moment where teenagers could have allowed the devastating news to crush their spirits and shatter their perceptions about the meaning of life, they chose to rise and ‘Live for Tyson’ and ‘Play for 8.’
At the forefront of responding to that adversity was Sulzer – as a teammate, as a friend and as a human being, Grandell said. And that’s how his legacy will live on. It goes beyond the action-packed Friday nights under the lights, game planning with X’s and O’s and reveling in the deafening roar of the crowd.
It’s the same attitude that earned Sulzer a preferred walk-on spot at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah – an NCAA Division FBS program. After everything, his conviction in his faith came first – graduating from West Valley early to serve a mission as part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and follow in the footsteps of his family.
Sulzer said it was a tough decision to pause his football career for two years but it falls in line with his character of putting others before himself.
After all, that’s what a leader does, Grandell said.
“I realized where my football skills have come from and I truly believe blessed and I’ve been given much from God,” Sulzer said. “I looked at this as my opportunity to give back and say thank you to the Lord for giving me these talents and gifts and being able to help people and go out and dedicate two years of my life and it will be another blessing in my life.”