Belgian defensive tackle Tibo Debaillie living the Global players dream in the Canadian Football League

Tibo Debaillie has definitely made a name for himself around the Canadian Football League. As one of the Global players who normally are expected to perform mostly on special teams, the Towson University product from Belgium has become a regular in the BC Lions defensive line rotation and is getting better every week.

It wasn’t always that way though. Debaillie’s journey to the CFL was anything but easy. From becoming Premier Prospects International’s very first prospect to falling to the third round of the CFL draft, his journey is something that’s straight out of a movie script.

The 24-year-old Debaillie was born in Gistel, Belgium, not exactly an environment where you would expect to see football (not soccer). And yet, growing up, he was surrounded by American football, so much so that his parents even met at a game. Interestingly, his dad along with his three uncles, played the sport constantly with Tibo attending many of their games. At 12 years old, he decided to try his hand at football after joining the Ostend Pirates of the Belgian Football League. While he was too young to play in the games, because of his size, he was able to practice with the team.

“They didn’t slow down for me at all,” said Debaillie. “I loved every minute of it.”

Ostend eventually formed a youth team where Debaillie could participate in six vs six games. At 16, Debaillie joined the main Pirates roster. During the time he was there he earned two Player of the Year awards and four stints with the Belgian National Team.

Eventually, Debaillie grew bigger and so did his football dreams. He started playing in showcase games where he caught the eye of PPI founder Brendan Collier. Collier is a former pro football player whose focus now involves connecting international players with American colleges. Collier talked with Debaillie about wanting to help him further his football career in the U.S. in college. The two kept in touch until it was time for Tibo to explore his collegiate options.

“I always had a dream to play college football, that was my big dream from a young age,” he said.

Collier delivered on his promise and coordinated a trip for Debaillie to visit various American colleges where he had the chance to continue playing football. To Tibo’s astonishment, it worked.

“Everything [Collier] said actually came true.”

The 6’2” defensive lineman committed to Towson University where he played NCAA Division one football.

Debaillie played two seasons at Towson. In that time, he racked up 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 Debaillie flew back home to Belgium before the lockdown. There he finished up his remaining two years of studies online.

As the world started to return to normal, the former Tigers player entered the 2021 CFL Global Draft. He made his name known after putting up an impressive 31 reps on the bench press. Debaillie was ultimately drafted in the third round by the Edmonton Elks, a lot later than some may have expected. However, that didn’t bother him.

“I was just really happy I got drafted,” he explained.

After an impressive training camp, you could find Tibo Debaillie on the list of names on the active roster. In his first two games, he found himself in a special teams role. Ultimately though, in week three he found himself moved down to the practice squad. But don’t think that shook the 285-pounder’s confidence.

“I can’t control that stuff so I don’t really worry about it, that’s just how life goes.”

He would be called up again later on but again was sent down. This past offseason, Debaillie optedt to re-sign with Edmonton but the team would ultimately completely cut ties and release him without his knowledge a couple of months later. According to Debaillie, he was never even told by the Elks.

“One night I came back from the gym, I’m chilling with my dad and my mom and I saw on Twitter I got released, I never heard anything from Edmonton.”

Fortunately, Debaillie’s time without a team didn’t last long. No more than a month after his release, he signed with the Potsdam Royals, one of the top clubs in the German Football League. During the time he spent with the team, Debaillie said he was “100% committed.” He had no idea that just two weeks after signing he’d get a call from BC Lions coach Rick Campbell. Coach Campbell explained that he believed Debaillie had a good chance of making the final roster. Shortly thereafter Tibo Debaillie was officially a BC Lion.

Debaillie can be found today in the defensive line’s regular rotation on one of the best defenses in the CFL. He’s carving out a name for himself. He credits the difference in his performance during his time in Edmonton to the coaching staff:

“If your coaches trust you 100% it gives you a confidence boost to go all out.”

Tibo Debailie’s journey is nothing close to typical. He’s a player who has truly made football his life. He never lost his confidence and now can perform the way he knew he was capable.

“All the hard work from 12 years old to now has paid off, it’s a great feeling.”

Watch Tibo 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)

A current student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Jordan grew up playing football. He began writing in high school after creating his own website and hopes to continue his pursuit for a career in sports media.