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Bajema no longer just a blocking tight end ..
Bajema no longer just a blocking tight end
BY BILL COATS • Friday, December 3, 2010 12:25 am
Sam Bradford was incredulous. "That blows my mind," he said. "I didn't know that until you said that right now, but to hear that ... it blows my mind."
The Rams' rookie quarterback had just been informed that for two years in San Francisco, tight end Billy Bajema didn't catch a single pass. "The things he's able to do for this offense," Bradford continued, "the way he catches the ball — he's got great hands — it's hard to believe he went two full seasons without a catch."
That was 2006 and 2007, when the ***** had three pass-catching tight ends in Eric Johnson, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. Those three combined for 177 receptions over those two seasons, with Bajema, a seventh-round draft pick in 2005 who had five catches his rookie year, relegated to a less-flashy assignment.
"For a period of time, that was pretty much just to be a blocker. So that's what I had to do," he said. "I always felt like I wanted to do more, and I was never satisfied with the role of being exclusively a blocker. That part of it was frustrating.
"But always, I hoped for an opportunity to do more."
That opportunity has arrived for the 6-foot-4, 259-pound Bajema, 28.
Already this season, he nearly has matched his career total for catches. He had just seven in four years with the ***** before joining the Rams as a free agent in 2009. He added eight last year and has 11 this season for a career-high 106 yards.
Before joining the Rams, Bajema never recorded more than one reception in a game. He had two last year at Detroit and this season has hauled in three passes three times.
That includes last Sunday's game at Denver, when Bajema caught a touchdown pass for the first time in the NFL. In fact, he caught two — a 2-yarder and a 26-yarder over his shoulder — in a span of 2 minutes, 52 seconds in the second quarter of the Rams' 36-33 victory.
"That was a heck of a catch he made on his second one," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "It was nice to see him get that."
QB becomes TIGHT END
A raw-boned yet agile athlete, Bajema played football, baseball and basketball at Westmoore High in Oklahoma City. He was a 230-pound quarterback who piqued the interest of a couple of schools that wanted him to continue in that position.
"But most colleges just saw a big guy who was a good athlete and wanted me to play either defensive end or tight end or linebacker," Bajema said. "I ended up committing to Oklahoma State and saw their tight end situation, and it looked like a position (where) I could get on the field sooner than probably the other positions I could have chosen.
"So I told them I wanted to play tight end, and that's where I've been ever since."
Still, it wasn't easy to give up on quarterback. "It's fading now, but when I first became a tight end I missed it," he said. "As a little kid, I always played quarterback and dreamed about playing quarterback at higher levels. But really I've embraced the tight end position over time and come to really love it."
Bajema started 47 games for the Cowboys, collecting 52 catches for 709 yards and four touchdowns. He was even more impressive in the classroom.
Majoring in pre-med and business, Bajema compiled a 3.7 grade-point average. Balancing his football obligations with his academic work forced him to be nimble.
"Football takes a lot of time as a college athlete. When I was done with practice, I had to get the homework done and the studying done," he said. "It was always important to me to have good grades and do my best in that area, too. It was just a matter of managing my time."
Bajema was one of just 15 recipients nationwide of a National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete Award, which provides $18,000 toward post-graduate work.
That would've gone toward medical school, with Bajema planning to specialize in orthopedics. "I thought it would be fun to treat athletes and work on guys like myself and try to get them back on the field" after injuries, he said.
But he acknowledged that wasn't his first choice for a vocation — at least, not right out of college. "I was always hoping that I could play in the NFL," he said.
Because of the situation in San Francisco, Bajema feared that he'd been unfairly labeled as a one-dimensional tight end. "I did get into the mold where the image in people's minds was that I was more just a blocker," he said.
But when Bajema became a free agent after the 2008 season, he had a fan at Rams Park. That was Mike Williams, who had just joined the Rams as pro personnel director after nine seasons in the *****' front office.
So Bajema wasn't on the market for long, and the Rams' investment has paid off. "He's a gamer," Spagnuolo said. "And he's one of the hardest-working guys out here. He's been doing that since we got him two years ago."
He's quiet but respected in the locker room, Bradford noted.
"It seems like the rookies, when we all got here, all the coaches pointed to Billy and said, 'If you want to know what a professional is, look at Billy Bajema,'" Bradford said. "And that's what it is. He works hard, he does the right thing, and he helps this football team in a lot of different ways."
With rookie tight end Michael Hoomanawanui shelved for at least a month with an ankle injury, Bajema will be counted on even more — whether it's catching or blocking — to help keep the offense perking.
"It's a lot of fun," Bajema said. "Most of my career has been defined by blocking and doing things on special teams. ... I've always hoped to get some opportunities, and I've had some here."
That the passes he's hauling in are being tossed by a former Oklahoma quarterback adds a touch of irony to his re-emergence as receiver, the ex-Cowboy conceded.
"They were our biggest rivals in college," Bajema said. "But Sam's my best friend now."
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Re: Bajema no longer just a blocking tight end ..
My son played against Bajema in Highschool football and in summer league baseball...really thought he would be a baseball player...what was wierd about billy in football was, we had tough tough kids afraid of him it was crazy, he was like a man amongst boys in highscool football....good to see him doing well
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