Division II football great Johnny Bailey dies from cancer in Houston at 43

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Johnny Bailey, a record-breaking running back in the small college ranks and former NFL Pro Bowl kick returner, has died from pancreatic cancer. He was 43.

Texas A&M-Kingsville announced his death Friday. Bailey played for the Division II school from 1986-89, when it was known as Texas A&I University, and became the second college player to run for more than 6,000 yards in a career.

"He was quite a top guy," said Fred Nuesch, who was the Texas A&I sports information director during Bailey's college career. "He was a nice young man and he represented us well whenever he went to different places (to accept his awards)."

Bailey rushed for 6,320 yards. At the time, only he and Tony Dorsett at the University of Pittsburgh had run for more than 6,000 yards in a career. He was a three-time NCAA Division II player of the year and runner-up for the award as a freshman, when he ran for 2,011 yards. That made him at the time only the third college running back to top 2,000 yards in a season.

He rushed for more than 200 yards in his first four college games and had at least 100 yards in his first 11. He gained 7,803 all-purpose yards, an NCAA career record.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

Bailey played 81 games and scored nine touchdowns over six seasons in the NFL after he was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the ninth round in 1990. He holds the team's record for the longest punt return when as a rookie he took one back 95 yards for a touchdown.

Bailey also played two seasons in Phoenix and two with the Rams, one in Los Angeles and the next when the franchise moved to St. Louis.

He made the Pro Bowl in 1992 as a return specialist when he averaged 13.2 yards returning punts for the Cardinals.

Funeral arrangements were pending for Bailey, who also starred at Houston Yates High School.