The Reel Thing

September 18, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

Jearld Baylis will turn pro one day. Most likely it will be sometime after 1996, after he's through playing for the Baltimore CFLs, after he's won a Grey Cup title or two, after he's had his fill of football.

Then he will kick back and pull in the big ones. We're talking bass here, of course.

"That's what I plan on doing when I'm done football -- go on the pro bass circuit," Baylis said. "I've been in a few amateur tournaments, and I think I'm good enough to make it."

When it comes to fishing or football, Baylis, 32, is one of the best. He was the Canadian Football League's Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 1993, playing nose tackle for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

And he's the mainstay of a young Baltimore defense that goes up against his old team, the Roughriders, in Regina, Saskatchewan, this afternoon.

Baylis has a distinguished record with rod and reel, too.

In the spring of 1986, for a period of about four months, he used to fish for his family's dinner. Then he'd share the catch -- usually 10 to 12 bass hauled out of a lake in Memphis, Tenn. -- with neighbors in an apartment complex.

He did it out of necessity. He was broke, like the Portland Breakers in the USFL, who dissolved that year. The Toronto Argonauts had not yet called with their contract offer and $500 signing bonus, and Baylis was just making ends meet. When the league folded, he lost $110,000 on a contract that was spread out over the full year.

"I was working [part time] as a janitor at a glove factory," Baylis said. "I'd fish for bass at a lake every day. It was 110 degrees. I'd leave in the morning when I didn't work, and come home at 3 in the afternoon.

"It was great. I put my faith in God. I didn't make enough money in the glove factory to pay the rent. There were poor people in our complex, and we'd all have a pot-luck dinner. They'd bring the salad, I'd bring the fish."

Baylis knows about lean times, hard work and pain. He grew up watching his mother, Lee Ethel, endure physical problems to help take care of the family with his father, Walter, who ran a janitorial service.

His mother, who died in 1991, became his inspiration.

"She was sick every day of her life," Baylis said. "She had high blood pressure, diabetes, blood sugar, lung disease. She was always fighting something. I dealt with a woman who knew pain."

So Baylis doesn't complain that his first season in Baltimore has been hampered by two aggravating injuries. In Week 2, he was leg-whipped by a Calgary lineman, and his left knee has steadily deteriorated. He will need surgery at the end of the season.

Then he tore his right biceps three weeks ago against Hamilton and sat out a game.

Still, a one-legged, one-armed Baylis is better than most fully equipped players, according to coach Don Matthews.

"He was dragging his leg last week," said Matthews, who made Baylis his No. 1 defensive recruiting project last spring. "But he was still productive, still making plays."

Baylis leads the team with three tackles behind the line of scrimmage and is tied for second with three sacks.

But this season is nothing compared to 1991, when Baylis' appendix burst while he was playing in a game for the British Columbia Lions. He had been ill all week with what was twice diagnosed by team doctors as kidney stones.

It wasn't until after the game when he had surgery for kidney stones that doctors found the ruptured appendix. They also found gangrene and a "pus pocket the size of a grapefruit," Baylis said.

"The doctor said in two more days, I might not have been here," he said. "He told me I was a dangerous person to be around because I deal with pain too well."

Baylis played four seasons with the Argos, then was traded with six players to the Lions for quarterback Matt Dunigan in 1990. The man who traded him was Matthews, Toronto's coach for only one year.

A hand injury sidelined Baylis in 1990. Then he joined Matthews and the Roughriders in 1992.

Only once along the way was the native of Jackson, Miss., tempted to chase a more lucrative NFL contract. That was 1988, when he tried out for the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both offered him contracts, although not necessarily opportunities.

"They both offered me minimum contracts," he said. "I asked for a $10,000 signing bonus because then they would take me seriously. When they wouldn't give it to me, I said this isn't a true opportunity."

So he went back to the CFL, where he has been a dominating lineman with an infectious laugh and easygoing manner.

"I don't have any regrets," he said. "I think I've made a mark in the CFL that will last a long time."

He signed a three-year contract with Baltimore in April, then moved into a house in Phoenix, about eight minutes away from the Loch Raven Reservoir.

"That's my getaway," he said of the fishing opportunities there. "I'll go a couple hours a day, three or four times a week."

1% And someday, he'll even turn pro.

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