Written by Evan Tate- Lions’ defensive lineman Tibo Debaillie took advantage of the opportunity the team gave him last season in what was his second CFL campaign. The 6’2” Belgian has quickly become one of the best Global players the Lions have ever seen, suiting up in all 18 games for BC in 2022, recording an impressive 20 tackles and three sacks.
“It was the best thing that could have happened for me, for my career. Just getting the trust from Coach Bowman and Coach [Ryan Phillips] and getting so much playing time and actually getting a couple of tackles, getting a couple of sacks, it was really good for my self-esteem as well,” the hulking defensive tackle explains.
The ‘Belgian Freight Train’ got his start in pro football when the Edmonton Elks selected him 20th overall in the 2021 CFL Global Draft. Tibo would suit up for three contests with the Elks, recording one defensive tackle, before being released by the team.
“If I’m being honest, I haven’t changed a lot as a player compared to my first season with the Elks,” Debaillie says.
“The biggest thing is just Coach Bowman and Coach [Ryan Phillips] giving me that trust to go out there on the field and perform. They gave me that opportunity and I took it with both hands.”
The 285-pound lineman grew up in the northwest town of Gistel, Belgium. Despite the lack of youth American football programs in his area, Debaillie was introduced to the game by his family early on. His uncle and father played in a men’s league and were avid fans of the game overseas.
“I started off playing just soccer as any kid in Belgium. My parents just wanted me to do sports, just be active,” he says.
“But then going to my uncle’s games, and looking at games with my dad on the TV; I really wanted to play American football.”
Debaillie would find his way to play by training with his uncle’s men’s league team before he was old enough to participate in games. Training with guys 10-20 years older than he was at the time, he says added a level of toughness to his game from the beginning.
“I come from a football family, so all the other guys knew who I was and what family I came from,” Debaille explains.
“So it’s not like they took it easy, it’s not like they let me off the hook. They all went pretty hard on me, but it definitely helped with my development as a football player.”
Raised as an American football fan in Belgium, it was always his dream to play college football in the USA. Debaillie achieved his dream by playing two seasons at Towson University from 2017-2019 before his college career was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he was required to return to Belgium. He saw success at the Division-1 program, playing in every game as a freshman and sophomore.
It wasn’t until he heard about the CFL Global Draft that he realized playing pro football was a realistic future.
“When the CFL reached out to me, that’s when I realized, like, damn, this was like a very big opportunity for me to play pro football,” he says.
“And from that moment on, I was just locked in on that goal, and worked out, did everything I could in my power to reach that goal, just like I did with my dream of going to America to play football.”
Today, Tibo Debaillie is one of just five Belgian-born players to ever play pro football in North America, and the first-ever to also be raised in Belgium.
“It does make me really proud. It’s not something that I that I’ve ever thought of when I started this journey, I just want to was just a gene that I had and just went for it. 100%. And it worked out eventually. But when people say it, I realized like, like, Damn, I’m like the first pro football player out of my country.”
Coming into his second season with the Lions and looking as good as ever through 12 days in Kamloops, and his third professionally, Debaillie is looking to build off the confidence he gained with more opportunity last season. He explains how the defensive line playing as a unit last season helped him succeed individually.
“Our D line doesn’t really look at individual stats and sacks, it looks nice on the papers and stuff, but we rush the QB, we tackle the running back as a whole. If we can keep that same mentality going and just stick together, I think we will have a very successful season.”
Adding that he’s proud to be able to represent Belgium on the professional level and inspire the next generation.
“It’s something that I was obsessed with, that’s why I did it. But I’m definitely proud that I’m the first one that and I’m gonna represent all the other kids in Belgium that have the same dreams as I because they can go to their parents and say like, ‘look, this kid did it, why can I not do it too?’ And I’ll just tell him to go for it 100%.”
The Belgian Freight Train is indeed looking primed for a career year.