Last July, college football was in turmoil. The COVID-19 pandemic was threatening the season. Players didn’t know if or when they would play. Coaches didn’t know which players they would have or how conditioned those players would be upon arrival.
But for Wake Forest football, Boogie Basham was the constant. A fifth-year senior in 2020, Basham could have been a prime candidate to opt out. The Demon Deacons’ star defensive end had agents trying to influence his decision. He had a third-to-fourth-round grade from the NFL advisory board. If anyone had a reason to carefully consider his future and whether a 2020 college football season needed to be part of it, Basham was that player.
Yet when Wake Forest returned to practice, Basham was on the field every day setting the tone. A popular but quiet player in his first four years on campus, Basham became more vocal as a fifth-year senior. Some of his teammates needed motivation, wondering aloud why they were practicing if they didn’t know whether there would be a season in the ACC. Basham had a constant and loud refrain on the practice field.
“You ain’t gotta get ready if you stay ready!” Basham would tell his teammates.
Coaches could use Basham as an easy example to others. If a future NFL draft pick is busting his tail in practice, why can’t you?
“Even in the NFL, I don’t care how much they pay you, it’s really hard to do it if you don’t have a passion for it,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “He loves football, he loves his teammates. The idea of not playing and letting his teammates down and not getting to play football, I don’t think it ever entered his mind. That was a thing I really respected about Boogie.”
As much as anything else, that’s what the Buffalo Bills are getting in the defensive end they drafted No. 61 overall in the second round. Yes, they’re getting a productive college player who totaled 35.5 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks in his career. He also has the size and movement skills to be a versatile pass rusher in the NFL.
Beyond the production and physical traits, though, the Bills are getting a player willing to do anything for those around him.
Bill Pope saw that when he coached Basham in basketball at Northside High School in Roanoke, Va. Basham was a star on the basketball court, averaging around 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. Even though he garnered more recruiting attention in football, Basham’s commitment to the basketball team didn’t waver. The Friday after the football season ended, Pope was typically understanding with those football players who were also playing basketball. With the seasons overlapping, he didn’t mind if the football players needed a few extra days to rest their bodies before jumping into basketball practice. Most players wanted that time.
Basham wasn’t one of them. He was the first player in the gym for the first Saturday morning basketball practice after football season ended.
“Boogie, you don’t need to be here,” Pope would tell him.
“Coach, I’m good,” he’d say.
Pope is in his 41st year coaching basketball, and the way Basham handled that stands out.