Bailey Zappe’s college coach knew he was ‘pretty special’ on his very first drive as a freshman at Houston Baptist.

Zappe’s performance was anything but, according to Shealy, who coached him for four seasons at Houston Christian, then named Houston Baptist.

“I think the things that maybe became common for us to see, in terms of his composure, his intensity, and his grit about him, we got to see that at, obviously, a significantly superior level,” Shealy said. “I was just really proud of him.”

Against Green Bay, Zappe completed 10-of-15 attempts for 99 yards and a touchdown. Although his inexperience seemed obvious in moments, Zappe held his ground and kept the Patriots competitive in the overtime loss.

The showing brought Shealy back to Zappe’s college debut, Houston Baptist’s 2017 opener against North Texas. Zappe, then a freshman who had just earned the starting job, began the team’s opening drive with five straight completions, moving the ball 68 yards to set up a rushing touchdown from inside the 3-yard line.

“We looked around and, at that point in time, knew we had a guy who was pretty special,” Shealy recalled.

Even through his television screen, Shealy could sense the same competitiveness that drove Zappe during college. He could read the intensity on his face, as he watched Zappe clench his jaw and grind his teeth, just like he did at Houston Baptist.

“He’s just a very serious competitor,” Shealy said. “Bailey’s a good teammate, but Bailey’s one of those guys who, when he identifies who he’s competing against, he’s not always going to be the nicest guy on the field, competing in practice. He wants to be the guy.”

All signs are pointing to Zappe getting another chance Sunday against Detroit.

While Jones returned to practice in a limited capacity this week, the Patriots formally listed him as doubtful to play. Because Hoyer is on injured reserve, Zappe will most likely get the start and newly signed Garrett Gilbert will serve as the backup.

Even with the changes in the depth chart, Shealy doesn’t expect much will change about Zappe’s approach, calling his desire to correct his mistakes “all-consuming.”

“The coaches are going to find that whether he was the No. 3 quarterback two weeks ago or the No. 2 quarterback last week or the presumed starter this week, the way that he’ll prepare, it won’t look any different, Shealy said.

Asked about whether he integrates college film when preparing for a rookie quarterback, Lions coach Dan Campbell said he has “a pretty good idea” of what Zappe did well at Houston Baptist.

The stats certainly speak for themselves.

As a junior in 2019, Zappe completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,811 yards and 35 touchdowns. In just four games as a senior in 2020, he racked up 1,833 passing yards and 15 touchdowns. Zappe transferred to Western Kentucky for his final year of eligibility, where he put up historic numbers and set FBS records with 5,967 passing yards and 62 touchdowns.

Bailey Zappe broke multiple FBS passing records in his one season at Western KentuckyMichael Reaves/Getty

According to Shealy, one of the biggest improvements Zappe made during his college career was reducing his turnovers, as he adjusted to the speed of the game and honed his ability to read defenses. His touchdown to interception ratio jumped from 1.77 as a junior to 2.33 as a senior to 5.64 his final season.

Shealy had plenty of positive things to say about Zappe’s skill set, praising everything from his arm talent to his throwing motion to his willingness to scramble and create outside of the pocket. But those qualities can be gleaned from watching film.

When the NFL scouts called or came to visit ahead of the draft earlier this year, they wanted to know more about Zappe’s demeanor. And Shealy knew exactly what to say.

“You could be down by 40 at halftime and you’re not going to convince Bailey that he’s not going to win the ballgame,” Shealy said. “He has a confidence level that is tremendous.

“When he walks in the huddle, there’s going to be 10 other guys who look in his eyes and not one of them is going to doubt that this dude thinks he’s the best that’s played. Some guys can talk about that or want that, but Bailey — I mean, the ability to convey confidence and belief in himself is really special.”

Come Sunday, Shealy will still have meetings with his staff during the Patriots-Lions game, so his chances to watch Zappe live are slim. But he plans to record the game and tune in later.

If his college career and NFL debut are any indication, Zappe can give the Patriots a chance.

“If we’re being honest, that first series he was in there, you know, some of the older guys on the field are probably thinking, ‘This young guy, can he get us in the end zone?’ said Shealy. “I would assume that most of those guys realized he was going to at least fight his tail off.”

Nicole Yang can be reached at [email protected] her on Twitter @nicolecyang.

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