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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

Lakewood's Dion Bailey usually finds the ball

Senior safety is one of the top defensive backs in the Southland.

September 02, 2009|Ben Bolch

What goes up in the vicinity of Dion Bailey usually comes down to his liking.

The Lakewood High safety intercepted nine passes as a junior, putting him among the leaders in California. Three interceptions came against Long Beach Millikan, including one when Bailey saved a touchdown by leaping at the last moment to take the ball away from its intended target.

"Once he sees the ball in the air, he's like a magnet to it," Lakewood defensive lineman Justin Utupo said. "He gets it no matter how high he has to jump or how far he has to go to get there."

Much to Bailey's dismay, the two interceptions that stuck with him most from last season were made by somebody else. Lakewood was tied with archrival Long Beach Poly in the fourth quarter of a Pac-5 Division semifinal when the Jackrabbits secured a pair of interceptions to pull out a 20-10 victory.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, September 04, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
High school football: A Sports article Wednesday on Lakewood High defensive back Dion Bailey misidentified Lakewood receiver Kevin Anderson as Chris Anderson.

"It hurts to work that hard and go that far and come up short," Bailey said. "That's something our team always thinks about and it's something we never want to feel again."

This year, Lakewood's opponents will have to contend with Bailey on both sides of the ball.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior is slated to line up at wide receiver on about 40% of the Lancers' offensive plays, meaning Bailey could fulfill his dream of scoring a touchdown in a varsity game.

"It makes us pretty scary catching the football," Lakewood Coach Thadd MacNeal said.

Lakewood is pretty frightening all around on offense, with Bailey and quarterback Jesse Scroggins having committed to USC, Utupo headed to Notre Dame and receiver Chris Anderson bound for Arizona State.

Could this be the year the Lancers end Poly's 79-game Moore League winning streak that dates to 1994?

"We feel like we have the talent to do it and everything, the depth and the experience," said Bailey, a three-year varsity starter. "Hopefully we can just prepare well and get it done."

You could say Bailey has been preparing for this season almost his entire life. He started playing flag football at age 3 -- "I don't really remember it," he concedes -- and has tried a slew of positions.

Bailey moved from cornerback to safety after his sophomore year so that teams couldn't isolate him on one side of the field and he would be free to roam and make more plays. He made plenty last season, finishing with 72 tackles and helping limit Mission Viejo receiver Alex Mascarenas to 28 yards during Lakewood's quarterfinal victory.

Bailey runs like a sprinter, leaps like a basketball player -- he can reverse dunk -- and possesses an uncanny combination of timing and anticipation. He also has an unorthodox leaping style that prompted one teammate to dub him "The Black Dragon."

"When I'm getting ready to jump, I drop my hands down to my side and they say they look like wings or something," Bailey explained.

Utupo has a different explanation for the nickname: "He's like a beast out there."

And so it will be the Black Dragon against the Black Mamba when Lakewood opens the season Sept. 4 against Crenshaw and running back DeAnthony Thomas.

Though Bailey says he relishes being the last line of defense because "I trust myself that I can make the tackle," he hopes he doesn't have too many head-to-head confrontations with Thomas because that will mean the fleet-footed tailback has broken into the Lancers' secondary.

But Lakewood has to like its chances every time the Cougars throw a pass near Bailey.

"When the ball's in the air, I'm going to go up and get it," Bailey said. "I'm not going to let anyone catch the ball with me in the vicinity of it."

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ben.bolch@latimes.com

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Top 10 defensive backs

Eric Sondheimer's top high school defensive backs in the Southland. An expanded list is available at www.latimes.com/preps.

*--* Dion Bailey Lakewood 6-0, 195 Senior USC commit had nine interceptions. James Grace Inglewood 6-2, 200 Senior An intimidating safety. Troy Hill St. Bonaventure 5-10, 160 Senior Doesn't get beat. Derrick Malone Colton 6-2, 195 Senior Pac-10 schools love him. Shaquille Richardson Los Alamitos 6-0, 175 Senior Lots of speed and ability. Dietrich Riley St. Francis 6-1, 195 Senior He's bigger, faster, tougher, stronger. Sean Parker Narbonne 6-0, 180 Senior Safety who makes plays. Joshua Shaw Palmdale 6-1, 190 Senior An athlete who can play anywhere. Brock Vereen Valencia 6-0, 170 Senior Fits the description of "lock-down" corner. Demetrius Wright Corona 6-1, 200 Senior Many think he's the best. *--*

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