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Teel: Meet the inspiration behind the 'yard dogs' on Hokies' defensive line

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Nearly a decade has passed since J.C. Price coached Alex Bazzie. Price has counseled scores of defensive linemen since, first at Marshall and now at Virginia Tech, but none has supplanted Bazzie as the gold standard.

Not for talent and/or achievement, mind you. For tireless effort.

Curious about the genesis of the “yard dogs” moniker Price uses for a Hokies defensive line that has been nothing short of ravenous this young season? Wondering about the $2 dog tags he awards to veterans such as TyJuan Garbutt and Norell Pollard?

Say hello to Bazzie, a former Marshall walk-on and Canadian Football League all-star.

Bazzie had just completed his redshirt sophomore season at Marshall when Price arrived as the Thundering Herd’s defensive line coach in early 2012. Over the next two years, Bazzie totaled 146 tackles combined, 23 behind the line of scrimmage, extraordinary for an undersized (6-foot-1, 228 pounds) defensive end.

During a position group meeting, Price asked Bazzie why he was starting instead of his bigger, faster and stronger backup.

“He goes, ‘Coach that’s simple,’” Price said. “‘Joe’s a house dog. Y’all put Joe in the air conditioning and let him up on the couch. He sleeps in the bed with you. Me? I’m a yard dog. I’m out in the dirt. I’m under the porch. I’m ready to bite the mailman.’

“And there was never a truer statement on why he played because the guy behind him had every measurable ... you ever wanted. But he didn’t have that intangible of your heart and hard-work ethic that Alex Bazzie had.”

Those traits came naturally to Bazzie. He drew minimal recruiting interest out of Northwood High in Silver Spring, Maryland, in part because of academic shortcomings, but a post-graduate year under John Shuman at Fork Union Military Academy righted his course.

Still, FBS scholarship offers did not materialize, and Bazzie was grateful for a preferred walk-on opportunity at Marshall. There, infused with military discipline and supreme confidence, he found his inner yard dog, especially when the Herd’s scholarship players treated the walk-ons dismissively.

Yard dog “came to me because it was me speaking my truth,” Bazzie said from the practice field at Northwood, where he serves as defensive coordinator. “... I knew when it came time to play football, it was just a matter of who made the play and who didn’t. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter what title someone gives you. It’s your work ethic that will speak volumes.”

Bazzie earned a scholarship at Marshall and took his approach to Canada, where in seven seasons he recorded 43 sacks for British Columbia and Edmonton. His career-high 11 sacks for BC in 2016 brought him all-star recognition.

Price shared Bazzie’s story with his Marshall linemen from 2014-20 and continued the practice in 2021 when he returned to Virginia Tech. An All-America defensive tackle for the Hokies in 1995, Price embodied defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s “lunch pail” culture, and his players now embrace “yard dogs.”

Garbutt revels in showing his dog tag to anyone interested and dares not wear it during games “because I don’t want [anybody] to snatch it off me. I love this. You see, ‘TY, Yard Dog.’ I love it.”

“You’ve got to have a certain amount of sweat and blood equity in the program before you can earn one of those dog tags,” Price said. “Those things are special.”

Garbutt and fellow ends Jaylen Griffin, Cole Nelson and C.J. McCray, plus tackles Pollard, Mario Kendricks, Josh Fuga and Wilfried Pene are igniting a defense that smothered Boston College last week and should do the same Saturday against FCS opponent Wofford.

Through two games, the 1-1 Hokies rank among the nation’s top five in rushing defense, total defense and opponents’ third-down conversions.

“I like our guys,” Price said, “and I’ve told them from Day One, when we started back in August, I don’t think we have the most talented room in the nation. There’s not one kid here who’s a preseason All-American. ... There’s no five stars. So I don’t think on paper we’re the most talented guys, but if we can go and every Saturday be the most competitive D-line in the country, I like our chances.”

Was Price a yard dog during his playing days?

“I’d like to think I was,” he said. “I probably wasn’t a yard dog every day in practice. ... But I think on Saturdays I lived up to that.”

He most certainly did, and Price keeps his dog tag on a keychain, a daily reminder of the work required and of Alex Bazzie.

“For me to be able to make him proud and say, ‘This kid represents everything that I taught, everything that I preached about,’” Bazzie said, “is an honor.”

Twitter: @ByDavidTeel

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