Tibo Debaillie is the first professional gridiron football player to be raised in Belgium. Despite being from Belgium, Tibo was raised around the game and his parents met each other because of relationships made through football.
In addition to being the first Belgian professional football player, Tibo was also the first player to receive a scholarship through PPI Recruits which is an international recruiting and placement platform for football players. PPI has since seen over 80 athletes receive Division 1 scholarships and over 100 total scholarships to athletes from over 15 different countries.
Tibo Debaillie has been a great contributor for the BC Lions this season playing defensive tackle. The BC Lions’ defense has been a big part of their 6-2 record on the season as they have allowed only 2 offensive touchdowns from their opponents over their 6 wins. BC has also held their opponent’s starting running back to under 1 yard per carry in 2 separate games so far this season where Tibo has helped prevent openings for opposing runningbacks and stopping the run.
In week 9 Tibo generated 2 quality pressures on Zach Collaros in the first half. More recently in week 10, he had a quality run stop against Ka’Deem Carey who was a CFL all-star last season. Tibo Debaillie was also recognized for his quality of play by Pro Football Focus in week 4 being named to their team of the week.
Tibo Debaillie was introduced to football through his father and uncles who began playing football long before he was born.
“I think they just got one of their buddies, kind of introduced him to, like kind of asked if they knew what American football was. I think they kind of heard of it on TV or whatever, and then they just tried it out. And my dad and my uncles, they’re all big guys, big, strong guys, so it was a perfect sport for them as well. And they were all boxing before that, and they just wanted to change it up. And then they started playing American football, and it went from there.” Tibo Debaillie explained.
“And actually, a funny story, my mom and my dad actually met at a football game because her brother was on the same team. And that’s where my dad met my mom. I was always around it because my uncle, he played until he was like 50. So I always went to his games when I was like a little boy, and then I eventually started to play as well. And it’s just always been a part of my life.”
Other Sports Played Growing Up
“So I started off playing just soccer as any boy in Belgium. I think I was like four years old when I started playing soccer. And then I switched to football when I turned 12.”
How old were you when you decided you wanted to play college football?
“That’s always been like a dream from a very young age for me. I don’t know why it was a dream and a goal of mine to play college football, but it’s always been there. I think I started saying to my parents that I wanted to go to America to play college football around like nine years old or something. And it’s always been a part of my future vision. And I don’t know why I thought that way, but that was always my biggest dream. And when I finally got a scholarship offer, it was like the best day ever.”
Other scholarship offers.
“Not a lot. It was mainly FCS schools. I had Towson, the school that I committed to, Albany, and then UMass, and that’s it.”
The challenge of getting exposure from overseas.
“That was basically the hardest thing because the coaches didn’t know who I was. They probably didn’t even know that they played football outside the US and Canada. So I didn’t really have to go out there and introduce myself and show them what I had to offer.”
First college sack was against Maryland in just the second game of your career on the road in their building. It came at a time in the game when Towson was down by over 40. Was the moment kind of ruined by the score of the game?
“Oh, not really. I was just still out there trying to do my best. And, you know, I was trying to go as hard as I can. And that’s what led to the sack. So I was still kind of happy. But, you know, the result of the game, it is what it is. And it was against a bigger school and we knew it was going to be a very hard game for us. But I was still happy to get that first one, first sack of my college career.”
Preparing to play Florida as underdogs who finished 6th in the country in 2019.
“Yeah, like the same as Maryland. We knew it was like one of the biggest schools ever, just the history of the team, playing in the swamp, the stadium was packed as well. But, to be honest, the first half we did pretty well, we got into the red zone a couple of times on our offense, but we just couldn’t get any points on the board. And I think in halftime, it was only like I want to say like 18-0 or 20-0, which for us was like we did everything we could to stop them. And we were pretty happy with that. And I know I remember that their head coach was chewing their mouth that it was only 20-0. But no, that was an awesome game. And I think I had to sack that game as well.”
“And just being on that field, such a legendary stadium, I’ve heard like a lot of stuff about the swamp and stuff. And it was just a hell of an experience just for a kid from a small town in Belgium where nobody even knows football. It was really awesome.”
How it felt coming out of the tunnel to 79 thousand people against Florida.
“Oh, it was nuts. Like when we came out, everybody was booing us and everything. And when they came out or whenever they had a big play the ground would just, the stadium would just shake and it was incredible. But while you’re on the field, you don’t really hear the noise or whatever, because you’re so locked into your assignment and what you have to do and make sure you don’t mess up. But when I was in the sideline and all things on the field, it was pretty damn loud.”
Thoughts on conference opponent, Ben Dinucci, leading XFL in pass yards and going back to the NFL.
“Yeah, knowing him from college and how he plays and playing against him, he was in college with James Madison. He was a stud and he was a hell of a quarterback, could sling the ball, could run as well. And it was always, I think I’ve never in my career, I don’t think we’ve ever won against James Madison because they just have such a good team, a quarterback, great receivers, great o-line. It was always very hard going against James Madison. So I’m not really surprised that he’s back where he belongs and I hope he can thrive in the NFL as well.”
How preparation changes when facing a higher-level quarterback.
“I wouldn’t say it changes too much because we don’t want to solely focus, as a D-line, we don’t solely want to focus on the QB. But if we know he can run it as well, we’ll try to keep him in the pocket and focus on that for the week. And yeah, that’s about it. And see where, see how far he drives back. Basically same stuff, but we’ll just like make sure that we point out what he’s really good at and make sure that he doesn’t break contain on us or whatever. That’s about it, to be honest.”
Tibo missed most of the 2018 season due to injury and his 2020 senior season was cancelled due to covid. Tibo’s thoughts on if these chapters of adversity made him a stronger person.
“Yeah, I would say so because I was, when I had the injury, I was really tested mentally because they said I wouldn’t be able to play football anymore and all that because I had a lot of stingers and all that stuff. And they said, we can do surgery on you, but then you’ll probably be done playing football. So I didn’t want to do that. And then they suggested to not play anymore, but I just rehabbed the whole 2018 season. I never let my head down. And my dad taught me early in my life that I just got to control what I can control. And the injury was like at that point when they said I would possibly not play anymore, I couldn’t control what they were thinking. So I just did everything in my power to get back on the field and strengthen my neck and get everything sorted. And it worked out in 2019. I was a starter and was really happy.”
“And then COVID, of course, that’s something else that I couldn’t control. So I remember catching one of the last flights back home to Belgium. And then I spent most of COVID in Belgium, just working out, staying ready. And then I graduated in 2021. And in spring of 2021, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t really like school. So I could go back for my senior season and do like a minor or like a double major or go for my master’s, but I hated school. So I decided not to do that, which was a really hard decision to make at the time. But then the CFL reached out and three years later, it all worked out pretty good.”
Tibo was selected in the third round of the 2021 CFL Global Draft which was expanded due to covid.
Did it feel like there were other teams interested as well had you gone undrafted?
“Yeah, I had online meetings with quite a lot of teams. And if you look at the draft, if you look, I think, at my draft here, I don’t think there’s a lot of guys left in the league. So I think the CFL and the coaches are still getting used to drafting global guys and see where the real talent is at. And now with so many guys in college, I think the talent level for the global guys is just gonna keep on rising and rising. You can see with Tyrone Vrede, he’s from Holland, he plays for the RedBlacks. I think two weeks ago, he had like 11 tackles and started the game. So he played in college as well. So it just all depends who the coaches wanna draft.”
Tyron Vrede had 11 tackles in week 5 against the Tiger-Cats. The interview was conducted on July 20.
“Like there’s still a huge, I played in Europe and there’s a huge difference from guys who only solely played in Europe and then European guys who come from college football. There’s a huge difference. And now with so many guys, and European guys in college football, the talent level is just gonna rise. And I really hope that the global concept stays around. And I also wanna do my part to show the CFL that the global concept should stay. And that is a very big opportunity for European guys and guys from all over the world to become a professional football player.”
Thoughts on the stigma that the global spot is so often used just for punting roles.
“In some draft, like my draft year, there were so many punters and kickers because they think, oh yeah, these international guys, the only thing they can do is kick a football. But you gotta give some other guys like me and Tyron and Thiadric Hansen, you gotta give them a shot as well on the field and so that we can show what we can do. And we’ve done that. So I hope the league starts to take notice a little bit.”
Rookie season if it was frustrating being primarily on the practice roster.
“I mean, it was definitely frustrating because during camp, I feel like I showed what I could do. And that’s why I was on the active roster. I showed the coaches what I was able to do because we had another global guy, Steven Nielsen. He’s in the ELF now. We were both on the active roster cause we showed him what we could do. And then just after two games, I’d get put on the practice roster without an explanation or anything, not really giving a shot or whatever. So it is what it is. It was frustrating, but I just kept my head down and kept working. That’s it. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole football career to be honest.”
Being released by Edmonton in February 2022 and signed by BC in May 2022. Was there any stress during that time?
“Oh, not really because like I’ve said it again, I can’t control that stuff. I just kept on working out, hoping for a shot. I actually signed with a football team in Germany. I was there for two weeks and then one day after practice at night, I get an email from coach Rick saying that if I would be interested to sign with the BC Lions and then I said, of course I said yes.”
“It was still a hard decision to be honest because the German team, I had a really great time there as well. The team was very professional and I know I wasn’t in a different country as well. It was just fun. I’ve never lived in Germany before, but I’m glad, I’m really glad I made the decision. And from the first moment I got here, I knew it was like, it was a different environment. The coaches treated me differently and coach RP and coach Bo have given me the opportunity to showcase what I could do. And they trust me a hundred percent and by them trusting me a hundred percent, it makes me play better as well and play with more confidence.”
Tibo on the intensity of football. In week 4 there were 6 penalties issued after a scrum following a run stop where he was pushed by Andrew Harris after the play.
“Well, you know, sometimes during a game, the bullets are flying, the tensions are really high. We were losing as well. I was just, you know, I was happy that we got the stop at that time and I might’ve said something to him that he didn’t really appreciate. So that’s why he shoved me and that’s it, that’s football. You know, it’s going to happen sometimes it’s a little pushing and shoving going on. And if somebody else would have got pushed on our D-line, I would have been the first one there to defend him. So I’m happy that Nathan and Sione were there to defend me as well. That was very good to see the whole defense, to be honest.”
“I lost my helmet as well, there wasn’t a lot that I could have done. You know, I just got up, got my helmet and my chin strap actually got loose. That’s why my helmet popped off. And so I had to go to the sideline as well to get my helmet fixed.”
Reaction to being named to the week 4 Pro Football Focus Team of the week given he was the first Belgian player to receive that recognition.
“So I haven’t really been looking at the PFF stuff and all that stuff, but it’s definitely cool. You know, it’s kind of like a cool recognition to see that you’re doing the right things. It’s kind of like a cool recognition to see that you’re doing the right things and you’re trying to make a positive impact on the team. But it’s not just me, you know, it’s the whole D-line that week. Josh Banks was named to the team as well. And he’s a heck of a football player, strong as an ox. And I’m just happy to see our D-line and our defence and our whole team thrive on any level right now, to be honest. So I’m hoping that we can keep that rolling.”
Transitioning from 4 down football to 3 down
“Yeah, the biggest adjustment was definitely just the yard off the ball. Like it changes the way you attack the run. It changes the way you pass rush. I’m still getting used to that stuff every day. But now in year three, I’m slowly getting the hang of it. And just like, I’m just trying to improve game by game and get used to the, getting used to how the offensive line sets and where the QB is dropping back or where the running back might hit the hole. And then also like the short yardage is a huge deal here as well, like second and one. So just getting used to all that stuff, but slowly I’m getting there.”
As a defensive guy is it frustrating to line up off the ball in short yardage?
“No, I love it. It’s just smash-mouth football. You dive in there and hope for the best. I don’t mind it at all. I love it.”
Preference between 4 down and 3 down football.
“Well, I’d probably say right now in my career, I’m having way more fun on this team and this D-line with our D-line coach and our defensive coordinator, just the atmosphere and the culture here is just, it’s just awesome. So I’d probably say it’s like, I’m having way more fun here in Canada than I was having in America. But then again, in America, I was always also going to school and I did not like school at all. And the days were just so long. Like here, I just have to focus on football and that’s it. And you don’t have to wake up at 4.30 every morning like we did in college. And I don’t like waking up early either. So I’m definitely having way more fun here.”
Toughest running back to stop in the CFL.
“Oh, I think that’s pretty clear. It’s the guy from Toronto, A.J. Ouellette. He’ll lower his shoulder on you and if you’re not ready, you’re going down, which I love as well. I think I tackled him twice. And every time I said, man, I love the way you run. You gotta respect it. And he’s a guy that doesn’t say much. He just gets the ball, tries to run through somebody, get as much yards as possible, hops back up again and does it all over again. So you gotta love a guy like that.”
“If he sees a hole and if somebody all of a sudden pops up, he’s still going through that hole. And if there’s somebody, he can juke people as well, but if you’re in his way, you’re going down if you’re not ready.”
Most exhausting offensive line to play.
“Yeah, so far in the season, probably Winnipeg, because they’re they play really hard. They play through the whistle. They play really well together. They know what they’re doing. They have all-stars on their team. They have two all-star tackles, all-star guards, centers really good as well. And then Collaros as well. So they play hard. They play to the whistle. And you always got to make sure you’re paying attention, otherwise you’re going down.”
Best and worst city to go to as the visiting team.
“Oh, that’s a good question. The best, for me personally, I like, I haven’t been to Hamilton yet, so I cannot talk about Hamilton. But I like Toronto a lot. The flight sucks, but the city is pretty cool. And I just love that their field is, it’s a grass field, a real grass field. And I love playing on real grass. I wish there were more stadiums like that.”
“And then the worst, I would probably say the worst is probably Winnipeg because there’s nothing to do when we get there. But I love playing in Winnipeg because the fans are just, it’s always packed. It’s loud, they’re crazy. And I love that environment as well. But it’s just, there’s just not a lot to do in the city. Like the day, we get in the day before and there’s not a lot of restaurants or whatever. So I’d probably say that. “
“Oh yeah, it gets so cold there, but I love their fan base. They’re crazy. They’ll yell at you, they’ll cuss at you. And that kind of fuels me up too. You know, I love the energy there.”
Life After Football
“I’d love to stay in Canada I love Canada. Yeah, my girlfriend is actually from Calgary, she’s born and raised there. She works in Edmonton now so I would love to stay in Canada after my playing career I love the country the nature all that stuff. So I graduated with a physical education major so maybe I’d be like a part-time PE teacher and then firefighter as well, something like that.”
Languages Tibo speaks.
“So Flemish, that’s my mother language. And then the province I’m from, we speak West Flemish, which is a very heavy dialect. They don’t really teach you in schools how to speak it. It’s like if you’re born in that area, you’re going to learn how to speak West Flemish. So that’s basically our own language. And then I can speak a little bit of French and then English I’m fluent in as well, and that’s about it. Because we speak in Belgium, we have three national languages. We have Flemish, French, and then German. But French and German, I’m not fluent in that.”
“The English aspect was never really, the language aspect was never really a problem for me because my dad’s best buddy, he’s from Ireland and I’ve known him basically my whole life already. And I would always hear him speak English to me and I’d speak West Flemish to him. So I was teaching him and he was teaching me. So it kind of worked out.”
“And all the movies and all the popular music back home, it’s all in English as well. So it’s not like we dub if there’s like a big English movie coming out, like the Hollywood movie, we don’t dub it. It’s just for subtitles, but it’s still English. So I was always around English a lot when I was growing up.”
The Keyboard barrier
“So my phone is AZERTY and I think my laptop that I bought in the States is QWERTY. I think I asked specifically to get AZERTY. So it wasn’t really ever a big problem. But if I would go to the library, I would have to watch out that I don’t misspell any words. But it wasn’t really that big of a deal, to be honest.”
“Whenever I give my phone to my girlfriend to look something up or whatever, she always gets confused. She’s like, what the hell is this blah, blah, blah.”
If Tibo sees more players coming out of Belgium in the future.
“Yeah, we actually have a couple already. There’s a running back, Mattijs Lasore. He’s at William & Mary now. It’s also an FCS school. And then Sylvain Yondjouen, he’s at Georgia Tech also defensive linemen. And he’s been invited to the East West Shrine Bowl, I think as well. I think they’re both in their junior or senior season. So I hope they both have a great season, can stay injury proof. And then hopefully if it all works out, they can go, they can make the next step to the pros as well. That would be awesome. Because Belgium is a really small country, football is not huge at all. And seeing these guys following my footsteps, it’s just awesome.”
Improvements to the European football talent pipeline.
“So the guy who helped me get a scholarship is Brandon Collier, and he owns this organization called PPI Recruits. And I was his first recruit that he helped. And now he has guys, like every year he gets like 30, 40 scholarships to big time schools. There was just a kid who committed to Alabama, and I think he was from Germany or England, but he has kids at every big school now, Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida, just all the biggest schools. And it’s awesome to see that I was like his first kid that he helped out. And now every, like when he holds a camp in Europe to scout for talent, he’s like a God to these players now. And that’s the guy we needed to help us get over there in the States and play college football.”
“Yeah, he actually played in the CFL as well. He had a stint with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.”
Thoughts on NFL European Expansion
“They’ve done it before and my dad and my uncles went to a couple of games, the NFL Europe games but i think it’d be i think it’d be uh if they if they could do that again I think it’d be great, to be honest if they if they can give some give a give a shot to some local european towns I think it’d be great for the for the sport in europe.”
“It’s hugely popular now, especially with the international games like you just said it’s had in London and in Munich it’s it’s huge like there’s superstars over there.”
Free Time and the Offseason
“I do go home for the off-season. I will go home in january and spend Christmas and New Years with my girlfriend and her family who live in Calgary. After New Years I’ll fly home to Belgium to be with my family and friends. During the off-season, I work out 4 times a week in the gym and 2 to 3 times on the field. I also love riding my bike with my uncle and go on runs as well.”
Favorite Soccer Team
“Well in the Premier League, it’s Liverpool and then in in the Belgian league, it’s Club Brugge. One of my best friends plays for the team as well. Brandon Mechele, he’s number 44. He’s a center back.”
Thoughts on Canadian winger Tajon Buchannon who plays for Club Brugge.
“Oh he’s like really fast strong maybe sometimes a little bit too, maybe sometimes a little bit too mouthy and too aggressive and make stupid mistakes, but he’s still young you know and my buddy says that he’s a really great guy off the field as well.”
Canada vs Belgium World Cup Game Thoughts if he thought Canada deserved a better result.
“Yeah for sure they are, I feel like they were the better team and they’re missing that penalty as well that was like detrimental, but that world cup for Belgium was just not our best performance overall so uh I’d like to just forget that move on and go to the next world cup.”
“Being third in the world we had to perform a lot better for a soccer-crazy country like we are it was very disgraceful. In 2018 it was awesome. The whole country was behind the team and it was just really awesome so I hope they can replicate that again.”
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