Bayless’ breakout season inspired by Anderson’s fight with breast cancer

The Arkansas State Red Wolves football program began its 2019 season with heavy hearts after head coach Blake Anderson’s wife Wendy passed away on Aug. 20. Her two-year battle with breast cancer came to an end less than two weeks before her husband led the Red Wolves into their first game of the year. 

With a lot of prayer and support from the community, Anderson and his team chose to utilize the season as a way to honor his wife, dedicating all of their games to her memory. Helping lead the way is Omar Bayless, a former Laurel High Tornado, who was known to be Wendy Anderson’s favorite player. 

Bayless had a special relationship with the First Lady of Red Wolves football, even referring to her as his “momma away from home.” 

As Coach Anderson has said, Bayless was always there to offer his friendship, love and support. “He’s family,” Anderson told reporters. “Omar came to the house to see Wendy all the time when she was sick. They talked all the time. He was her favorite player.” 

“Our relationship was very tight and that relationship grew  as I watched her fight cancer the way she did,” Bayless said. “She truly showed me how tough of a fighter she was. She was just a fun person to be around, always kept a smile and stayed positive through that breast cancer phase. 

“One of my favorite memories is when she was really sick and wasn’t supposed to be outside or anything but she made her way to one of our practices to watch us one day.” 

Having lost a true friend, Bayless expressed beautiful sentiments on Twitter on the day of her passing: “Every chance I had to be by her side, I was there. This one hurt me because she showed me what a true fighter looks like... You’ll forever be with me...love you.” 

Those words were not the only way Bayless has honored Wendy Anderson. Through the first half of his senior season, Bayless has played the best football of his life. Seven weeks in, he leads the entire nation in both receiving yards (843) and receiving touchdowns (10). He broke the school record for most career touchdown catches and was even dubbed the College Football Hall of Fame’s Kia Player of the Month in September. 

Bayless’ inspired performance has landed him atop the list of potential finalists for the Fred Biletnikoff Award, which is given each year to the most outstanding receiver in college football.

Bayless, who wears uniform No. 7, will be on the field tonight (Thursday) at 6:30 on ESPNU as Arkansas State hosts Louisiana.

Despite all the accolades and national recognition, Bayless says his primary focus and motivation continues to be the opportunity to use his gifts to honor the life of his “momma away from home” and her valiant fight against breast cancer. 

“I know she’s looking down on me,” Bayless said. “Smiling and screaming, ‘That’s my boy!’”

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