Baxlee came out of nowhere and used his speed, leaping ability, and hustle to rack up 16 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks, two interception returns, and a fumble recovery that tied the game at 19-19 late in the fourth quarter

The third-round pick had strong showings during the team’s preseason camp and earned his way into the team’s final 53-man roster.

“Baxlee’s just got a knack for making plays,” said defensive coordinator Don Pellum. “He’s the type of guy, just by watching him, you see why he’s playing this year. If you’re watching tape for an extended period of time, you can tell that he wants to be in a favorable position and make a play. Baxlee is able to disrupt the throw and flick his head out in front of the receiver for a first down. It’s kind of all there. It’s not one extravagant play, but we knew if he made human progress and his mindset stayed the same, he’d be special.

“His instincts are good, he’s able to fly around, he’s able to box out and shed the first defender in front of him, and I think that’s a big part of what makes him effective. Against somebody like Calvin Gentry, we knew he was going to be good, but it’s a little bit to be expected when you are a fourth-round pick. He’s going to keep getting better, keep getting bigger, keep getting faster.”

With Baxlee locked into a role-player job as the fifth defensive lineman, those seven tackles are solid, but he still has plenty of room to grow. Pellum has done a tremendous job introducing Baxlee into the program.

“I knew he came in and improved over spring practice,” Pellum said. “Obviously he also has the tools. I feel like he’s an athlete that’s always got something to offer. With a lot of young guys, they just start kind of learning the game to where you can have a good year and go on your way, but he’s got that competitive toughness that makes him feel more comfortable playing in certain situations.”

Pellum’s not wrong about Baxlee’s competitiveness. He takes zero time wasting in the backfield. He ends up barreling through defensive tackle Dion Dawkins when he has Green to his side and the running lane. This play has a neat little twist on it, because Baxlee doesn’t just blast his way through the tackle trying to pick up a yard; he takes off to give Dawkins the opportunity to make the tackle. The guys who have big personalities and like to push buttons frequently are the ones who can adjust to the defensive scheme as quickly as possible.

Here is another example of Baxlee showing his versatility. Here, he reads the backfield quickly and senses Jones was going to the right. He reads the play even quicker and breaks back to help out on Azubuike.

Baxlee has a relentless competitive spirit that translates over to college.

Not impressed with the @Linebacker_Abilities rotation at DB? @BaxleeU is coming to actually take your job. — UM Badgers (@UMBadgers) August 8, 2017

“Coach Pellum has done a great job with Baxlee,” said junior defensive back Ronnell Lewis. “He’s selected guys and selected guys, he’s done a great job with it. In end-of-year meetings, we were all talking about how he hired guys and he’s given guys opportunities. We’ve seen a lot of this since a long time.

“When you hear different things about him, it’s not the first time he’s had success and he’s been still in the program and has been a part of it. We can respect that.”

That’s why, when I saw Baxlee during team workouts, I couldn’t help but think about the boy who grew up in McKinley, Mississippi. While he didn’t sleep much during his childhood because his mother was going through a hard time, he did manage to watch the Red Sox win the World Series.

“I remember when the red Sox won World Series in 2004,” he said. “I could just see back then the excitement and everything gave me chills. It’s like those narratives, like kids playing baseball, they’re always growing up and make it their own. I assumed, I mean I kind of figured it out after I was in AA and at the high school kind of lingered on and here I am. I guess the fact that I capitalize on people’s testosterone and Mother Nature longer than everyone else in the country has helped me where I’m at.