Thibaut Debaele, American football champion in Canada: 'Fans secretly paid our bill at a restaurant'

Thibaut Debaele, American football champion in Canada: ‘Fans secretly paid our bill at a restaurant’

Exactly five years ago he was in our “Stars of Tomorrow” series, and today he’s a star in the CFL, the Canadian American football competition. Gistelnaar Tibo Debaillie (24 years old) has fulfilled his big dream of becoming a professional. “NFL? All that comes now is a bonus.”

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“I remember the article for the year-end series as my first major interview and photo session ever,” Tibo Depay winked. “In the meantime, I did more, but it is still a beautiful memory. I received a ceremonial suit and then received a lot of reactions for the great article. It is always good to get some recognition for your hard work.” Tipo was 19 years old. We are now over five years old and a lot has changed in the meantime. “A month after meeting De Sterren van Morgen, I ended up at Towson University in Maryland on an athletic scholarship. This was a childhood dream come true. I ended up studying there for four years and playing on the university team. I graduated last May and was drafted from The Edmonton Elks accepted, one of the best Canadian League teams.” A very special achievement. When drafting, teams choose from among a pool of talented players, who then receive a professional contract. Thibault was drafted into 20th place, making him the first ever Belgian to start as a professional in American football in North America. “We followed the drafting live from Gestel. If I see your name appear on the 20th, it’s a surreal and emotional event. My mom and sister couldn’t hold back their tears. This has always been my dream. Whatever comes now, NFL (American Major League, editor), for example.” The example, is a bonus.” Intense training camp Meanwhile, 24-year-old Gestalnar has already completed his first season of competition in Canada. “In July there was an intense training camp where players who weren’t good enough were kicked out of the team. American football is a tough job in which you have to prove yourself every day. In August I finished my first game as a professional. In the meantime, the competition is over. This sport is stressful for the body, so the competition is deliberately shortened. Unfortunately we didn’t get to make it to the playoffs, but hopefully next year. Winter in Belgium American football – along with ice hockey – is the most popular sport in Canada.” Sometimes I’m recognized on the street, but I’m not constantly treated like Cristiano Ronaldo, for example. It’s always fun to take pictures with fans or sign autographs. We also once had fans billing us at a restaurant behind our backs. These things are always great. “The amounts that are traded in American football cannot be compared to what football players earn in Europe, for example.” With a junior contract, I earn around C$2,000 ($1,380, editor) per match, but if you’ve been playing in the CFL for a while, that can add up to C$10,000 ($6,900) per match. By the way, I am not the only European in the team, because I play alongside a French and a Danish player. “In Edmonton, the main language is English,” said Tibow, who should rely primarily on his strength as a defensive end. I weigh 127 kg and am 1.90 meters tall. Tebow spends the winter in Belgium before returning to Canada in May. “Because then there will be a new bootcamp in the program. These two different worlds are no problem for me. I always come back to Canada with a smile and vice versa. It is always nice to come back to West Flanders to enjoy the good food and to be able to have a good conversation with West Flemish,” He laughs. But he also developed powerfully as a human being. “During those four years in America, I learned to live very independently. There they attach great importance to discipline and punctuality. Now I’m everywhere at least five minutes before. I know how life works and I’ve grown up. Paying the bills is of course also part of this.” So I have to look for a job in Belgium in the off-season. Fortunately, I can go to J-Star in Ostend for this, as I have always been a student in the past”, concludes Thibault, who also continues to follow Belgian football closely and is a fan of FC Bruges.

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