Graphic: Igor Lazarevic
Thibaut Debaille has certainly made a name for himself around the Canadian Football League. As one of the international players who is typically expected to work on special teams, the Towson University product from Belgium is a regular in the BC Lions defensive line rotation and is getting better every week.
It wasn’t always like that. DeBailey’s journey to the CFL has been anything but easy. From being the first prospect in the Premier Prospect International to falling in the third round of the CFL draft, his journey has been something straight out of a movie script.
24-year-old Debaly was born in Gistel, Belgium, not the kind of place you’d expect to see football (not football). And yet, growing up, he was surrounded by American football, so his parents even met at a game. Interestingly, his father along with his three uncles played the sport continuously, watching many of Thiboe’s games. At the age of 12, he decided to try his hand at football after joining Ostend Pirates of the Belgian Football League. He was able to practice with the team when he was still young enough to play in games.
“They never slow me down,” DeBailey said. “I loved every minute of it.”
Ostend eventually fielded a youth team where Debaly would feature in six out of six games. At the age of 16, Debaille joined the main pirate roster. During his time with the Belgian national team, he received two player of the year awards and four caps.
Eventually, Debaly grew up and so did his football dreams. He started playing in demo games where he caught the eye of PPI founder Brendan Collier. Collier is a former soccer player whose focus includes connecting international players to US colleges. Collier spoke with DeBailey as he wanted to help him further his college football career in America. The two continued their relationship until it was time for Thibault to explore his partnership options.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing college football, it’s been a big dream of mine since I was a kid,” he said.
Collier kept his promise and arranged for DeBailey to visit various American colleges and get the chance to continue playing football. To Tibo’s surprise, it worked.
“Everything [Collier] It has actually become true, he said.
The 6’2″ defensive lineman was committed to Towson University, where he played NCAA Division I football.
DeBailey played two seasons at Towson. During that time, he collected 29 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks over 22 career games. Unfortunately, the 2020 season was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Debaille returned to Belgium before the lockout. There he completed the remaining two years of his studies online.
As the world begins to return to normal, a former Tigers player enters the 2021 CFL Global Draft. He made his name known after putting up an impressive 31 reps on the bench press. DeBailey was eventually drafted in the third round by the Edmonton Elks, much later than some expected. However, this did not bother him.
“I’m very happy to graduate,” he explained.
After an impressive training camp, you can find Thibaut Debailly on the active roster. He found himself in a special teams role in the first two games. But he eventually found himself relegated to the practice squad in week three. But don’t think that has shaken the 285-pounder’s confidence.
“I can’t control those things so he doesn’t really worry, that’s life.”
He calls again later but is dropped again. Last offseason, DiBailey opted to re-sign with Edmonton, but the team eventually cut ties entirely and unceremoniously released him a few months later. According to DeBailey, he was never even told by the Elks.
“I came back from the gym one night, hanging out with my mom and dad and I saw on Twitter that I was released, I never heard from Edmonton.”
Fortunately, DeBayly’s time without a team didn’t last long. Less than a month after his release, he signed with Potsdam Royals, one of the top clubs in the German Football League. “I’m 100% committed” to his time with the team, DeBailey said. Little did he know he would get a call from BC Lions coach Rick Campbell two weeks after signing. Coach Campbell explained that he believes Dibaili has a good chance of making the final roster. Not long after that, Thibault DeBailey was officially a BC Lion.
DeBailey is in the regular defensive line rotation of one of the best defenses in the CFL today. He is carving a name for himself. He spoke to the coaching staff about the difference in his performance during his time in Edmonton.
“If your coaches believe in you 100%, it gives you the confidence to go all out.”
Thibaut Debaly’s journey is nowhere near normal. He is a player who truly made football his life. He has never lost his confidence and can now perform in a way he knows he is capable of.
“All the hard work from the age of 12 until now is paying off, it’s a great feeling.”
Watch Tebow and his BC Lions take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders. BC Lions @ Saskatchewan Roughriders, July 30, 03:00 CET (3 am, 9 pm ET July 29)