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Santa Fe Christian kicker Jake Bailey, who also has become the Eagles' starting cornerback, returns an interception in the team's section finals win over Francis Parker.

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— When the starting cornerback went down with an injury in the regular-season finale, Santa Fe Christian High defensive coordinator Dan Egan sent the backup in against Francis Parker.

In the game to clinch the Coastal League football championship, sophomore Jake Bailey, who was mainly the team’s place-kicker to that point, moved into the secondary.

“Here you have a sophomore and a kicker and he’s playing cornerback,” Egan said. “At a small school like ours, that’s how it goes, but we were deeply concerned.”

Egan’s concern has turned to surprise in the four ensuing games because the kicker-turned-cornerback has been rock solid during the postseason when every game is played with added stress as Bailey learns to compete under the strain of win or go home.

As the Eagles, who captured a Southern California championship last week, head into today’s Division IV State Championship Bowl against Modesto Central Catholic at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Bailey is still at cornerback.

Bailey’s journey at Santa Fe Christian has hardly been an easy trek.

He began kicking when a teammate was injured last season on the junior varsity. Through the first nine games this season, he was strictly the place-kicker. He practiced at cornerback, but his game was kicking the football, not trying to bat it down.

Then came Cole Needham’s injury and the sudden promotion of the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Bailey.

He’s responded with 33 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery for the season.

In the 31-15 win in the San Diego Section championship game against Parker on Nov. 30, Bailey played like a veteran with six tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception.

Against Arcadia Rio Hondo in last week’s regional playoff game, Bailey kept making plays. He deflected a pass that was intercepted by a teammate. For good measure, he kicked his fifth field goal of the season.

“I never thought the time would come where I’d have to actually play corner,” Bailey said. “I’ve learned how to deal with the added responsibilities. It’s been kind of fun to play a lot more.

“For me, kicking is relaxing. Cornerback is stressful because you have plays to make all the time.

“It means I’ve had to watch more film and pay more attention to the other team’s offense in those film sessions.”

In the state finals, Bailey will be matched up against Central Catholic junior kicker Kenny Smart.

While Bailey has 43 conversion kicks in addition to his five field goals, Smart has four field goals but a remarkable 96 PATs for a team that averages 49 points a game.

“We have a great kicker,” Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa said. “We have two of the best kickers in the state in this game with our guy and theirs.”

Unlike Bailey, who is now serving double duty, Smart is a kicker only.

“I know now that next year I’ll be more involved in games,” Bailey said. “I’d love to go back to just kicking. It’s become my passion, (but) I would miss defense.

“I love those pressure situations, which is almost every kicking play because there is so much to take into account. That’s why I enjoy making those plays because they mean points on the board.

“A kicker has to love being the man. And when you miss a kick, you have to know how to forget it. Same with cornerback. If you give up a long play, you have to have a short memory.”

That mentality is what endears him to the coaching staff.

“He’s never had that deer-in-the-headlights look,” Egan said.

Added special teams coach Jim Rooney: “In nine years of coaching, he’s the best kicker I’ve had. He’ll be one of the best in the country before he leaves here.”

But he now has a lot of cornerback to throw into the mix as well.

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