BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—When former Marshall defensive lineman Alex Bazzie suited up for the British Columbia Lions for the first time, he fulfilled a childhood dream to become a professional football player.
“When you step out on that field and you’re hearing the crowd scream, it’s the same adrenaline rush that you’d get if you were playing American ball,” Bazzie said. “There’s no difference and when the fans come and support, they’re into it just like Americans are with their football.”
Bazzie drew interest from the NFL. Following his Pro Day where he ran a 4.87 40-yard dash time, the outside linebacker received an invite from the Cleveland Browns May 10 to attend their rookie mini camp.
“That process was just tremendous knowing you’re put in a position to try to earn a job, but not only that, to just embrace the moment of being there,” Bazzie said. “Being where growing up as a kid you always dreamed of being. Once I got there I worked hard and I played hard.”
Ultimately, the Browns decided not to sign Bazzie to a free agent rookie contract, but he did not let that get to him.
“Although I felt I went out there and left it out on the field, there was still a bit of anger in me,” Bazzie said. “I still carried a chip on my shoulder after not being picked up. But at the same time, God has a plan for everyone. There’s a reason to his magic and what he does.”
Almost immediately after the Browns passed on the 228-pound outside linebacker, a call from the Great North came his way when the British Columbia Lions of the CFL signed Bazzie to a contract.
Bazzie went into camp without a single professional snap under his belt and walked out of training camp with the starting job at defensive end on the Lions 46-man game day roster.
The Maryland native took that starting spot away from two veterans and will be only one of three rookies on the Lions roster to start in week one.
“The coaches accepted me; they liked what I was about,” Bazzie said. “They just allowed me to play comfortable, and once I started relaxing and playing comfortable it allowed me to show my talent. It was to the point where coaches were like ‘we’ve got to get this guy on the field.’ I was humbled, very humbled. I came out and worked hard everyday. I just wanted to show I make an impact and soon enough it came down to the point where the coaches wanted me on the first starting lineup.”
Bazzie said the hardest adjustment he’s had to make with the Lions are the rule differences between American and Canadian football.
“I have to get used to (being) a yard off the ball, which I wasn’t used to,” Bazzie said. “Having two to three downs as opposed to four. The kicking rules are a little different too. I’m still learning, there’s still a lot to learn and get a feel for, but as the weeks and days of practice go by, I’m learning a lot and I’m picking it up.
“Just coming in at the end of the day I just tell myself its football, so don’t get too caught up in what you don’t understand. Still remind yourself its football and just go out there and play football. Whatever there needs to be corrected the coaches will correct and sure enough, these coaches have really done a great job of explaining downs and situations to me. I’ve been learning a lot.”
Bazzie, a native of Silver Spring, Md., arrived on Marshall’s campus back in the fall of 2009 and sat out his freshman season with a redshirt after spending the previous year at Fork Union Military Academy.
After a redshirt freshman season where he saw action in six games and recorded eight tackles, Bazzie’s role along the defensive front grew and he played in every game his final three years.
Expectations were high for Bazzie heading into his final year after a noticeable improvement from his redshirt sophomore year to redshirt junior year, and he met them head on-finishing the year with 66 tackles and 13 sacks.
Bazzie helped lead a defense that made a remarkable turnaround from being one of the worst units in the country in 2012 to one of the best in 2013.
His final season was capped off with helping Marshall win its first ever Conference USA East Division Championship and birth into the C-USA Championship Game.
The Thundering Herd lost the title game in Houston to the Rice Owls, but did receive an invite to play in the Military Bowl against the Maryland Terrapins.
The bowl was played in Annapolis, Md., Bazzie’s virtual backyard, and the Herd won 31-20 for its first 10-win season since 2002-03.
“It was amazing,” Bazzie said. “I mean words can’t even explain how amazing that feeling was for me to know that I get to finish my last college game against my home state team that was wonderful.”