FOLKSTON, Ga. – An NFL hall of famer went back to school on Friday.
Champ Bailey said it was like he never left.
The Charlton County High School icon was honored in front of a packed gym as part of the NFL's Hometown Hall of Fame program, delivering a message that left an impact.
Stay on the right path. Never forget where you came from. And never let anyone tell you that you can't do something. If a kid from small town Folkston, Ga. can make it, then everyone there can, too.
Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection and five-time All-Pro, played at Charlton from 1992-95 and later, at the University of Georgia. He was a three-sport star at Charlton (football, basketball and track), but football is what he'd make a profession out of.
He made it very clear that Folkston is still where his heart is.
"The memories just start flowing back, things you forgot about, you hadn't thought about in 10-15 years it just starts coming back to you, the faces, the smell, just the atmosphere," Bailey said. "Nothing's really changed. This is the same high school I went to. It definitely brought back a lot of memories."
Bailey was nostalgic in his return, scouting out friends and former teammates in the crowd and telling stories about each. The memories, he said, never fade.
"A lot of these kids never saw me play the game, they only know what their parents told them, what their teachers told them," Bailey said. "To see them get behind me and support me, those are the ones I want to inspire. It's all about them."
Bailey did just that.
"I just want to make sure I inspire people in a positive way, and hopefully, make them better and think different," he said.
Around the school, posters welcomed Bailey back and hailed his accomplishments. The band played. Elementary students held signs up in the audience. And Indians football players took Bailey's message to heart.
"It gives me inspiration, I don't know about the other guys, but it gives me inspiration," said Indians freshman running back Jaylen Lilley. "Feels great [to see Bailey]. Gives me butterflies."