The game of football is growing. And BC Lions Global defensive lineman from Belgium, Tibo Debaillie, can attest to witnessing more and more European kids fueled with the desire to follow in the same footsteps as him in the gridiron.
From being one of the few youth players who had to cross the border and then cross the continent just to gain exposure in front of U.S. coaches, Debaillie is now giving back to his recruitment process which discovered and helped him to get this far in football.
During this offseason, other than training and enjoying some vacation time, the Belgium freight train has been helping out at PPI Recruits camps. It was founded by former NFL and CFL player, Brandon Collier to search for the best football talent in Europe and help those players earn a scholarship to division one football programs in the U.S.
“The last camp I helped out was in Belgium. So, anybody can come to those camps but they select kids that they think are good enough to go to college camps. Those kids are usually 17 or 18 years old. Then Brandon takes them on a whole college tour and he tries to get every kid a scholarship,” Debaillie said.
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The luxury of bringing 20-plus kids to visit U.S. colleges was one of PPI’s visions when Collier discovered football players like Debaillie who had the desire to play division 1 football. Now PPI has assisted players from all over Europe and even began its next mission of growing the game in Africa.
“It started very small. It was just him and I. Now Brandon would organize camps in Germany, France, Belgium, England, Netherlands. He’s been to Senegal this year so he goes everywhere to look for kids that are good enough to get a scholarship,” Debaillie added.
Being of one the first players to come out of the PPI program and earn a scholarship to play at Towson University, Debaillie acts as a role model for many youth football players who are participating in the PPI recruitment camp.
It brought back some old memories where Debaillie had to hop on the train from Belgium to Germany to play the sport he loves and dreams that one day he could play at a division 1 school. Now he has kids coming up to him for advice.
“The last camp, one of the D-linemen asked me how he can improve his pass rush and against the run. I showed him what I’ve learned so far from college and in the CFL with coach [John] Bowman. I tried to teach him as well as possible,” Debaillie recalled.
“I told him as well that you have to practice every day. Coach Bowman, the D-Line, we work on the same fundamentals daily. It’s as simple as it gets. We have a lot of talent here but most kids don’t work hard enough. That’s usually why when you don’t make it,” he added.
The 6’ 2’’ 285-pound defensive tackle was a threat to opposing O-Linemen in the 2022 CFL season. After posting 20 defensive tackles, three sacks and one fumble recovery, he’s looking to become a more polished player and aims to improve his technique this offseason.
“Right now, I have four days a week when I’m training heavily. I always try to do some position work because that’s something I want to get better at. So I can be more fluid to get to the quarterback on the pass rushes,” he said.
It all started with a common interest from Debaillie and Collier. They would meet up at a park where they worked on drills in the mud by themselves. Several years later, there are thousands of kids trying to earn a trip to college camps in the U.S. Multiple athletes are representing PPI recruit on their collegiate teams.
Debaillie was one of the first players to take the risk. Not only is he representing Belgium in the CFL, but he’s also hungry to make more plays in the trenches for the Lions.
“When I help out at a camp now, there are 40, 50, 60 kids at each camp. Everybody raised their hand when Brandon asked who wants to play division 1 football. It’s great to see all these kids that want to follow my footsteps and the footsteps of the players who have done it before them,” he said.
“For me personally, it’s trying to build off on the season I just had. I can compete at the highest level so it’s just improving my technique, and improving on the tackles. For the team itself, of course, it is about winning games, taking it week by week.”