March 21, 2016

Khalil Bass and never taking no for an answer


WINNIPEG — For Khalil Bass, the fourth time was the charm.

Much has changed in the span of a year for Bass, a 25-year-old linebacker now considered one of the league’s elite. But before recording 102 tackles, five sacks, an interception and a forced fumble in his rookie season, the path to the pros was never cut and dried.

Bass tried out with four different teams, including four different times with the Bombers in particular, before finding himself on a Canadian Football League roster.

“My road to get to Winnipeg was very long,” recalled Bass, now set to enter his second season as a Blue Bomber. “It took me about two and a half years.”

Rejection came early for the 6-foot-2, 221-pound linebacker after the BC Lions became the first CFL team to see him play at his pro day.

“They told me I was too stiff and I couldn’t cover,” said Bass. Another opportunity came with the REDBLACKS, who Bass says told him he ‘wasn’t fast enough’ and ‘couldn’t move in space in this league’.

“I kind of took that like, ‘what are you talking about’.”

“They told me I was too stiff and I couldn’t cover”

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The Bombers liked what they saw in Bass but under then-defensive coordinator Gary Etcheverry’s system couldn’t make a fit.

The Encino, Calif. native had no intention of giving up, however. Bass said people asked him about a ‘plan B’ in case football never worked out for him. The CFL, he’d respond, was plan B. Arena football was plan C.

His plans were only football, football, football.

“Either way I was going to be playing football, that’s what I wanted to do,” said Bass. “I didn’t think about giving up for one second.

“My dad is always in my corner obviously and so is my mom and family,” he continued. “Whichever way I decide to go they’ll back me but for me, since I was a little kid, this was what I wanted to do.”

Between workouts with the Bombers, Bass focused on improving his 40-time and coverage skills. He even did some work at safety before his next tryout with Winnipeg, improving his ability to move and cover before the next time the Bombers saw him.

The next time, the fourth and final time, came unexpectedly and even with some hesitation.

“It was kind of a weird experience,” said Bass. “The day before I tried out for Saskatchewan, and my agent told me there was a tryout with Winnipeg the day after.”

“I had thought, I’ve already seen them three times, they know me, they know what I can do – is it really worth it for me to go out there and do this whole thing again?”

With nothing to lose, Bass went and battles through soreness to impress the Bombers. They pulled him side and told him he was in – finally.

“The moment [the Bombers] pulled me aside I was weightless, kind of like a big weight off my shoulders,” said Bass. “My dad teared up when I told him – he was at the tryout but he teared up and we kind of had a little moment there. It was a long time coming.”

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The rest was history. Bass wound up fourth in the league with 102 tackles in his rookie year and looks to be a key piece on a revamped Bomber defence moving forward. The opportunity let alone the role was never handed to him, but an opportunity is all that’s needed.

For Bass, it was no doubt an opportunity earned.

“Every tryout I had was an open tryout,” said Bass. “None of them I was invited to, none of them knew me beforehand or requested me being there. I just kind of looked it up on the internet.”

“It’s really just belief in myself,” he added. “I’ve always been overlooked throughout my football career – high school, college, even junior college and things like that. For me, I’ve always known once I get on a team I’d be able to shine and do what I need to do on the field.

“It was just about getting that first opportunity.”

In short, it’s a lesson about never taking no for an answer.

“If you believe this is what you’re meant to do, then you’ll find a way. If someone tells you no, find out why they said no and fix everything you can fix and keep going.”

– With files from