Ja’Mes Bays may not be the biggest or the fastest player for the Winona Tigers, but head coach Joey Tompkins wouldn’t want to take the field without him.
Bays starts at free safety for the Tigers and will be a three-year starter this season. He stands at 5-foot-8 and weighs 150 pounds, but Tompkins said he’s a player you want on the field
“He’s the smallest kid in the senior class, and one of the smallest on the team,” Tompkins said. "He has been starting for us for two years and both years he has gotten hurt. Two years ago he broke his wrist and was out for the season. He got hurt last year and still got to play some. He is a small kid, and you knew growing up that he wasn’t going to be very big. He may be 5-foot-6. Now he talks like a grown man and has a deep voice.”
As a sophomore, Bays broke his arm in the third game of the season and missed the entire year. Then as a junior, Bays broke his wrist in the third game but returned by the end of the season.
“He’s a two year starter, and he’s there because he is the best one we have to put there,” Tompkins said. “Is he a playmaker, absolutely not. Maybe he will be this year but you don’t ever know. When you look at him, he’s not overly imposing. But he can run pretty good. He’s not a blazer but he can run. It certainly hurt us on defense both years when he got hurt. He’s not afraid to come down and hit you. He’s just not a big kid but he’s a good boy and is going to do what he’s supposed to do and be where he’s supposed to be.”
Bays said being injured was tough on him.
“I got injured in the third game of the year against J.Z. George and I was out for a few games,” Bays said. "I came back the last regular season game. It’s tough because I got hurt in the third game of my sophomore year as well and I was out for the rest of the year and had to watch my team go to the North Half. It’s tough watching my team go out there and not be able to help.”
Tompkins said he missed Bays when he was hurt because he made the defensive calls for the secondary.
“And he knows where he is supposed to be on the field and what’s going on,” Tompkins said. “He can line us up on defense and get everybody else lined up. We have more than one call. However they line up is how we line up. If they go motion, we are going to change the coverage and he is going to make that call. It’s not the easiest thing to do. It’s not like we are going out there and saying we are running cover 3. We just don’t do that. We may start out in palms coverage and man on the backside but if they motion, we have to change that. He makes all of those calls, and that’s not an easy thing to do. He understands what we are doing.”
Bays admits he’s a quiet kid, but when he talks, he sounds like a full-grown man with a deep baritone voice. Bays said he knows as a senior he has to be more of a leader than ever before.
“I don’t really talk much, but I have to be a leader to the team and the defense,” Bays said. “We have a lot of positions open in the secondary so I have to lead everybody and make sure everybody knows what is going on. It gets tough being the leader sometimes. We have some other seniors and we all just work together.”
Bays also plays on the basketball and baseball teams at Winona.