Hadzinikolov makes his final football game a great one
DANVILLE–Muncy graduate Bailey Hadzinikolov played his final high school football game Friday night. He will attend Lock Haven in the fall, but not play football. He leaves the game on his terms.
Considering where Hadzinikolov was nearly two years ago, what a blessing that is. Two weeks into his junior season the hard-hitting linebacker broke his back, his third lumbar bone snapping.
In addition to missing the rest of that season, Hadzinikolov and doctors feared he might never play football again. But a player who attacks challenges the way he does ball-carriers never gave up hope and he never missed a game last fall, earning all-state honors.
Friday, Hadzinikolov ended his football playing journey in brilliant fashion, earning North Defensive MVP honors and helping his team rout the South, 36-0 in the District 4 All-Star Game.
“This is the last game of football I’ll ever play, and it was a perfect send off,” Hadzinikolov said. “It’s a perfect way to end it by winning the Defensive Player of the Game.”
Hadzinikolov established himself as one of the district’s premier playmakers during a breakout sophomore season in 2019. That year, he made 123 tackles and helped a young Muncy team rally down the stretch to repeat as District 4 Class A champions and win the program’s first state tournament game.
It looked like Hadzinikolov was headed for an even better season in 2020 when he opened it by making 23 tackles, including six for loss the first two weeks. But that second game became his last when Hadzinikolov broke his back.
The L3 is the central bone in the lumbar region and plays a major role in balancing the weight of the torso.
This looked bad.
“I was worried. We heard from the doctors that it was a broken back, and I went in there and they said this is going to be a struggle,” Hadzinikolov said. “They said football is on the very, very optimistic end of this tunnel.”
The light was hard to see, but Hadzinikolov fought toward it and grew more determined. He worked hard at his physical therapy and strengthened his core muscles. He also took up yoga and greatly enhanced his flexibility.
Nothing came easy but rarely does anything which is worthwhile. The payoff came when Hadzinikolov’s final appointment coincided with the start of summer practices a year ago. Against the odds, he had not just come back, but did not miss a practice.
“I was working hard to get back out there. I couldn’t lift weights as hard as I could in the past, but I was working toward things I could control,” Hadzinikolov said. “They said take baby steps. If it starts bothering you, you’re done, but fortunately I got through it.”
Hadzinikolov was back and it was as if he never left. A team captain, he produced his best season, making 169 tackles, including nine for loss. Hadzinikolov finished second among District 4 players in tackles, averaged 14.1 per game and helped Muncy capture the NTL-II championship and reach a fourth straight district championship.
The entire experience was one nobody ever wants to go through, but Hadzinikolov turned a negative into a positive. He grew as a player and person. Then he hit the field, and both talked the talk and walked the walk.
“Because I couldn’t do as much as usual (in the offseason) it was about making sure everyone was showing up to team practices,” Hadzinikolov said. “It pushed me to be more of a leader because I knew I had to try and bring everyone together.”
It worked. Muncy went 10-2 and Hadzinikolov closed his scholastic career having been part of either a district or league champion every year. He earned District 4 all-star honors and made his final game a memorable one.
As usual, Hadzinikolov almost always was around the ball. He was part of a stifling defense which allowed just 86 yards on 33 plays, and which did not surrender a first down until the fourth quarter.
Hadzinikolov is good enough to play college football, but he is not pushing his good fortune. His goal was to make it through his final high school season unscathed and that mission is accomplished in emphatic fashion.
His back was broken but Hadzinikolov was not. He left the field Friday one final time the way so many of his teammates and coaches will remember him.
As a winner.
“We didn’t get to finish it quite the way I wanted to (last fall), but just being able to play with all my best friends growing up meant a lot,” Hadzinikolov said. “Getting to play a full season of football, which I love the most, is what I’m most grateful for.”