Bears' Bass is opening eyes

Cut by Raiders, rookie end's big play in win over Ravens shows he belongs in NFL

Watching a grainy high school videotape that made it tough to see anything but a guy in dreadlocks dominating, Missouri Western State football coach Jerry Partridge reacted the same way five years ago many Bears fans did Sunday.

Who is this David Bass?

"The film was low-grade and you just couldn't tell what was going on, but you could see from David's frame what he could become,'' said Partridge, who recruited Bass to the NCAA Division II program in St. Joseph, Mo.

Bass became the latest backup to help the Bears win the war of attrition, returning an interception 24 yards for a touchdown against the Ravens that punctuated a pivotal victory achieved without five defensive starters.

The athleticism Bass displayed fighting off Ray Rice's cut block and leaping to pick off Joe Flacco's pass always distinguished him at University City High School just outside St. Louis. A two-sport star who drew scholarship offers from Division II schools to play basketball, Bass stayed off the radar of major-college football programs because he was a skinny 6-foot-4, 210-pounder with iffy grades.

"We weren't very good and I played offensive tackle up until my senior year, so that also was why nobody noticed me in high school,'' Bass said.

Starting 50 straight games in college made Bass impossible to ignore. Partridge vividly recounted three interceptions Bass made at MWSU that mimicked what he did against the Ravens. Only the size of the offensive linemen trying to block Bass has changed.

"David probably got his hands on 25 to 30 balls when he was here just by being athletic — a basketball guy who got thick,'' Partridge said.

Adding 40 pounds of muscle didn't slow Bass down in making 401/2 career sacks. But Partridge always will remember Bass more for the way he developed off the field than on it. By the time Bass left, Partridge says he felt bad losing his composure in front of a player who never did.

"I've never heard David even cuss,'' Partridge said of his former team captain. "He's one of the most mature young men I've ever seen.''

Fate forced that maturity to start growing within Bass at a young age. He was 7 when his father, David Bass Sr., a former prep basketball standout in St. Louis, died shortly after introducing his oldest of two sons to sports. From as far back as David Jr. can remember, to Sunday, when he will suit up as an NFL player in his hometown, every time Bass puts on a uniform, he does so with the same purpose.

"My dad was the reason I started playing, so after he passed, I just wanted to go out and make him proud, and that's never changed,'' Bass said. "As I got older, I started to understand he's watching over me. It was no longer about me. It was making my mom (Mardell) proud because she wanted me to do this for my father. I wanted to set an example for my brother (Darrian) and show that I'm dedicating everything I do just for him.''

Bass' mother and brother, a freshman linebacker at his alma mater, will be among 30 or so loved ones wearing No. 91 gear Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, a few miles from where Bass grew up idolizing Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce.

As soon as the Bears get to town Saturday, Bass hopes to attend his grandmother's birthday party. But the weekend's real celebration for Bass' family and friends — and perhaps Bears general manager Phil Emery — will be the NFL arrival of the kid from the Show-Me State who already has shown he plans to stick around awhile.

"In this league, you need confidence to get over the hump,'' said Bass, whose playing time will decrease Sunday with the return of starter Shea McClellin. "Making a play like (the interception return) shows me I do belong.''

The Raiders cast doubt by cutting their seventh-round choice in August to keep two punters and hoping to hide Bass on the practice squad. The Bears, influenced by two explosive tackles Bass made against them in an exhibition game, pounced to claim the defensive end on waivers because a team never can have enough young pass rushers. They envision Bass bulking up to about 275 — not counting the heavy chip on his shoulder.

"You don't want to be cut,'' Bass said. "It motivated me. When it happened, I didn't lose any confidence. I still kept my head high because there were guys on the team who I felt I got the best of. I knew I could make it. But I'm still learning. I'm still asking a lot of questions.''

More importantly, Bass is answering them.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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