Oct. 8, 2012
***The following piece appeared in the Oct. 6 game program.***
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – One recent day I was clicking through Marshall-Rice football game still images that had been sent to me for Herd Insider potential use by Brad Helton, MU’s national and Conference USA award-winning videographer.
On just about every shot that involved the Herd defense, something jumped out at me … or someone did.
Defensive end Alex Bazzie – “I call myself a rush linebacker” -- was everywhere. In nearly every frame, it was 53, hitting a running back, chasing a quarterback, leaping to block a pass.
Pictures don’t lie, and I told Bazzie what I’d seen.
“Football is a game that brings out everything in me,” he said. “When I’m out there on the field, my objective is to stop whoever has that ball. So, when I see that ball in somebody’s hands and he’s not wearing green, I feel like it is my duty to run full speed, 100 percent, and find them and stop them.
“So I feel, regardless whether I’m on the left side and the ball is all the way on the right side, I have to get there, find a way to let that offensive player know, if the ball is in your hands, just know 53 is going to be around somewhere.
“With that type of mentality, as you’ve seen, that helps me get into those frames and video, where maybe somebody else makes the tackle, but I’m in there. I think that’s what we can build our defense around, be a swarm defense, where as soon as a guy gets the ball, it’s just hard to breathe because you know you’re going to get hit by at least five people.”
However he grades out game-to-game, Bazzie gets an “A” for effort from the man from whom in counts most.
“He’s just a ‘try-hard’ guy, works extremely hard, whether it be special teams or playing defensive end, just gives everything he’s got on every play,” Holliday said of Bazzie, a redshirt junior from Silver Spring, Md. “Great kid … maybe most persistent player I’ve ever been around, coming to me wanting to play on special teams and we finally got him on there.
“If it seems like he’s always around the ball, it’s because he is. That’s because he plays hard.”
It hasn’t been easy for Bazzie (pronounced BAZZ-e) to reach his dream of playing college football.
He hoped to head only four exits east on the Capital Beltway from Silver Spring to play for his home-state Maryland … “Yes, even with those ugly uniforms,” he said with a smile that probably doesn’t greet opposing blockers.
At Northwood High he didn’t have the ACT scores to do that – so Maryland lost interest – and he only qualified late in a prep school year at Fork Union Military Academy, “finally getting eligible at a time a lot of schools had already wrapped up their scholarship signing list,” he said.
Former Herd assistant coach Phil Ratliff persuaded then-Coach Mark Snyder to make Bazzie an invited walk-on.
“I took it because it was an opportunity,” Bazzie told me recently. ‘I wanted to use it to the best of my ability to go out and make something happen, for me, for the team.”
He was a redshirted walk-on linebacker when Holliday arrived, and soon after new defensive coordinator Chris Rippon got his first look at a guy who was soon a scout teamer, but wanted so much more.
“He was a little stiff, looked great, looked the part,” Rippon said, “but he was a little bit of not-committed, talked the talk, ‘I want to earn a scholarship, paid my dues, went to prep school,’ and all that. Well, show me. And he didn’t show me right away. We talked about what he had to do, and the first step is special teams and all that.
“He went home for the summer and came back, and Alex was a man on a mission. Didn’t really have the quickness and speed to be a linebacker, but he just kept working, working and working. He gained a great deal of confidence once he was acknowledged as a player, and it helped him as an individual, too. He didn’t have to put on a charade, he didn’t have to put on that tough-guy image.”
Last season, Bazzie emerged for his special teams play and several big hits, including one on T.Y. Hilton, FIU’s all-everything return man, in Marshall’s 20-10 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl win last December. Now, he’s a defensive starter, and someone Rippon says the Herd has to have on the field.
“When I redshirted in ’09 I got to watch the older guys, like Albert McClellan, a pretty good guy to watch, and started to learn the pace of college football, what it was like, the responsibilities,” Bazzie said. “Coach Snyder left and Coach Holliday came in and some of the veteran guys like (linebacker) Mario Harvey, (safety) Omar Brown took me under their wings, especially Mario.
“He would always say to me, ‘I don’t feel you should be a walk-on player. You’re better; don’t stop the fight. I can see there’s lots of fight in you, and don’t stop the fight.’ When you’ve got an older guy to tell you something like that it kind of warms you up a little bit, kind of gets you going.
“So, I just come out every day and practice hard. Regardless if I’m on scholarship or not, we’re all teammates; we’re all here. We all have our stories, each has a story to tell, and sometimes nobody wants to hear that story, so guess what? We’re all here together, so let’s make something happen. I just try to work hard every day, and Coach Holliday saw something in me, I guess.”
Holliday presented a scholarship in the summer of 2011 – “a very blessed moment, and another opportunity for me,” Bazzie said. In the recent double-overtime win at Rice, Owls quarterback Taylor McHargue escaped a Bazzie tackle on first-and-10 at the Herd 49 … but 47 yards later, guess who made the tackle at the Marshall 2?
“He’s bought in 100 percent to being that Energizer bunny,” Rippon said. “He’s got to be. He saved the game. He’s the guy who made the tackle on the 2-yard line. Now he missed the tackle way back, 45 yards before that, as did three others, but he was the guy who ended up making the tackle.
“To Alex’s credit, that’s who he is. He chased (McHargue) down. Bazzie is relentless. You never know when a hustle play is going to turn it around, basically wins a game.
“Right now, for Alex to be successful, he’s got to play at 100 percent. If he plays at 95, it’s not enough. He’s not the most talented guy in the world, but that doesn’t hold him back. He’s made himself into a valuable guy, a guy you’ve got to have on the field. He’s made himself into an integral part of special teams and an integral part of this defense.
“It’s great to see that happen, and now you have an example for the other kids who come around that wonder, ‘Well, can I get this done?’ This is what this kid’s done. He’s an example we use, like, ‘You might be more talented, but if you played as hard as this guy, look what it could get you.’”
Veteran sports journalist Jack Bogaczyk is Editor of the Herd Insider and writes “The Word on the Herd” on HerdZone.com.