Trips Right, Boogie To Blooer, 28 B Shovel with an A Step.
His players have mastered such technical jargon now, but when Georgetown football coach Kevin Kelly first brought his offense with him from Navy in the winter before the 2006 season, his plays had his new charges spitting out displaced vowels like they had swallowed rancid alphabet soup.
All except for soft-spoken quarterback Matt Bassuener, that is, who recited even the most challenging playbook page with prodigious ease.
After all, when fluent in four languages, speaking Spread Option is almost second nature.
The 23-year-old signal caller isn’t just some brainiac linguistics major in a chest protector. He has learned Spanish, Portuguese and Finnish the old-fashioned way — by traveling the globe and immersing himself in different cultures. Bassuener’s tale is a combination of “Rudy” and “Gulliver’s Travels” — seven years, five schools, three countries, three league titles and a love for football that wouldn’t let him quit.
The journey began in the tiny village of Port Edwards, Wis., a sawmill town where Bassuener grew up idolizing Brett Favre and competing as a fierce lightweight wrestler.
“His belt used to hang down around his knees — that’s how small he was when he first came out for football,” said Lee Wyngaard, who coached Bassuener at Port Edwards High. “But he decided he was going to be a football player, and he built himself into one.”
At 16, the blond-haired, blue-eyed Bassuener wanted to see what lay beyond the sleepy hamlet of 1,944, so he headed off to Finland for his spring semester and a second football season. While quarterbacking the Helsinki Roosters to the country’s under-21 football championship, Bassuener lived with Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Michael Quarshie, who at the time was playing for the Finnish national team, and the two developed a strong bond.
“The time in Finland was a life-changing experience for me,” said Bassuener, who threw for 1,359 yards and 15 touchdowns after stepping into Georgetown’s starting role midway through last season. “Meeting Michael and seeing his work ethic gave me a role model to look up to and follow.”
Determination was one thing Bassuener would need upon returning stateside.
Following his senior season at Port Edwards, he said Yale all but guaranteed him a spot on its roster, only to renege. Princeton showed interest as well but demanded Bassuener spend a postgraduate year further developing his arm. So off he went, this time to Hudson, Ohio, for a year at Western Reserve Academy. Bassuener led the Pioneers to a league crown, only to see Princeton choose current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Jeff Terrell from archrival University School in Cleveland instead.
Though offers from smaller colleges remained, Bassuener couldn’t give up his dreams of playing Division I football. So he went to Mexico.
“I was searching for any option — and I came across these Web sites for college football in Mexico,” Bassuener said. “I looked up Tecnologico de Monterrey, found out that they had a great exchange program, applied as an independent exchange student, got in and went down there. I didn’t know what to expect, but the football was more than I ever imagined.”
Wearing his fourth uniform in as many years, Bassuener took the Borregos Salvajes — which translates as “savage sheep” — to the Organizacion Nacional Estudiantil de Futbol Americano (ONEFA) Intermedia national championship. His fluency in football and foreign languages was enough to gain admittance to Georgetown, where he has since picked up Portuguese and worked his way from backup defensive back to unquestioned team leader.
“I think that all the places he’s been and experiences he’s had help him adapt to different situations,” said Kelly, who compares Bassuener’s work ethic to that of Chad Pennington, whom Kelly tutored during a stint at Marshall. “It helps him be a great leader for us.”
Bassuener’s nomadic pursuit of his goal has provided him with opportunities he only could have dreamed of as a child in Port Edwards.
While in Monterrey, Bassuener met Spanish language sports personality Victor Villalba. The two kept in touch, and when Villalba came to the District to call the Cowboys-Redskins game for Spanish radio in 2005, he invited Bassuener into the booth.
“He wanted me to talk about my time in Monterrey, but all of a sudden, he asks me to stay in the booth and call the rest of the game with him,” said Bassuener, who manned the microphone with Villalba again for a Dallas Mavericks game last winter. “I don’t think I ever say anything of substance, but he keeps asking me back.”
This summer, Quashie invited Bassuener back to Finland to help out at Quashie’s football camp, where Bassuener teamed with Quashie and Raiders receiver Jerry Porter to teach Finnish youth about football.
Bassuener was awed by the chance to throw routes with Porter, but the notoriously lazy pro receiver might have learned something from the Patriot League quarterback: work ethic.
“I’ll come home, and he’ll just be passed out — lights on, TV on — and he’ll have just fallen asleep reading a book or something,” said Georgetown receiver Brent Craft, who shares a townhouse and stays for a half-hour after practice each day to work on timing routes with his quarterback. “That’s how hard he works.”
Added Wyngaard, his high school coach: “I get tears in my eyes just thinking about him. If someone says, ‘This is what you have to do to get the job done Matt,’ he’ll do it and then go three steps further.”
No matter how many people praise his approach, this humble Midwesterner will continue to deflect it right back at them.
“I’ve been very lucky that at each stop along the way, I’ve been around someone who is very hard working,” Bassuener said. “Whether it was Michael in Finland, [Colgate tailback] J.J. Bennett at Western Reserve or [Brent and twin brother Darren] Craft here at Georgetown, those people have always pushed me. If I’ve done something right, it’s because of them.”
For now, Bassuener is focused on the season ahead.
But after that, who knows? As long as Matt Bassuener’s “football bug” is biting, he will travel any road so long as it leads to the gridiron. Though it may twist and turn, those who know him best are sure he will make the best of it.
“He could be the President of the United States if he wanted,” Wyngaard said. “He could be a five-star general — Army, Navy, Marines, whatever — if Matt Bassuener wants it, he’s going to get it. He’ll find out what it takes to get there, and he will not stop working until he gets it.”
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