Though Future Unclear, Towson Football’s Tibo Debaillie Staying Ready In Belgium

By Justin Fitzgerald

March was a chaotic month for Towson defensive lineman Tibo Debaillie. When the university shut down due to COVID-19, Debaillie and his parents had to scramble to get him a flight back to his native Belgium. He was lucky, returning home right before Belgium locked down and international travel became more complicated.

Once he was able to settle in at home, Debaillie had to tackle online classes and stay in football shape. Director of football performance Justin Lima sent the team a series of bodyweight exercises, but Debaillie took it up a notch.

Debaillie did single-leg squats and single-leg Romanian deadlifts with full water jugs. He also did single leg squats with bags of concrete. When he wanted to focus more on cardiovascular endurance, Debaillie went on bike rides that lasted anywhere from two and a half to four hours. He sent Lima videos of all of his workouts, and those videos encapsulated what Debaillie has been in his football career — a player who never stops working.

“I love working out and I love being busy,” Debaillie said, “and now is a perfect time to get better physically and mentally.”

Debaillie was introduced to football by his father, Yvan, who played in Belgium in the 1980s. He started playing football when he was 12 and dreamed of playing college football in the U.S. By 2016, Debaillie was part of a group traveling to the U.S. for recruiting camps with Europe Elite, a program led by former NFL defensive lineman Brandon Collier to help European football players get college scholarships.

That’s how Towson head coach Rob Ambrose first saw Debaillie. After running him through a rigorous workout at the Tigers’ prospect camp, Ambrose was impressed. Though Debaillie was raw, he had a lot of potential and athleticism for someone with his size (6-foot-2, 285 pounds).

“Tibo came to our camp and he was amazing,” Ambrose said. “Obviously, I took a flyer. I watched him do his thing and thought he could play four different positions for us so I thought, ‘Why not?’ And I took a chance.”

College brought a new challenge for Debaillie. He had always been strong, but he had to work to translate that strength into production on the football field. In Belgium, the play is less structured. Defensive linemen didn’t have specific assignments other than to tackle the running back on a run or get after the quarterback on a pass play. At Towson, Debaillie had to learn how to rush the passer and stop the run within the structure of the defense. He had to learn a playbook for the first time, too, but Ambrose doesn’t think he had much trouble with it since Debaillie speaks five languages.

“Everyone’s bigger, stronger, faster,” Debaillie said. “Technique-wise, everyone is a lot better, too. The tempo of the game is a lot higher as well with the no-huddle offense we sometimes face, so I have to get used to that as well.”

In the weight room, Lima worked with Debaillie to convert that explosive strength into success on the field. Lima emphasizes single-leg exercises, since a player’s legs are rarely in a symmetrical stance on the field. That meant a lot of barbell split squats and single-leg lunges. Outside of the weight room, it meant pushing 300- or 400-pound sleds for 4-6 seconds and then resting 30 seconds, simulating a long drive. Lima credited Debaillie for having the right mentality and pushing himself to get the most out of workouts.

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