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October 21, 2016

Landry: Stamps’ rookie Singleton making it look easy

Matt Smith/CFL.ca

Alex Singleton may have dual citizenship and all but he is still getting used to this Canadian thing.

The rookie linebacker with the Calgary Stampeders, born and raised in Thousand Oaks, Calif., is smart and observant and so the little things – both on and off the field – do not escape him. While he has had obviously no trouble at all in adjusting to pro football, Canadian style, life in a locker room full of Canucks can still be a little odd for him.

“People are nicer in Canada,” he says, before illustrating how that can throw a wrench into his idea of what needling a teammate is all about.

“You can be arguing with someone and they’ll be, like, ‘pardon?’ And you’re like, ‘well that just ruined the attitude. It’s too nice,” he says with amusement. “I’m still a ‘what’ guy, for sure.”

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Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Singleton makes a tackle on REDBLACKS’ receiver Ernest Jackson (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

At the age of 22, Alex Singleton might still be getting used to the nuances of being a Canadian. It is evident, though, that he is already well assimilated to the ins and outs of life on a bigger field.

He has emerged as a top-shelf force in the Canadian Football League, patrolling the middle linebacker’s spot with guts and gusto, precision and thought. Laid back and friendly off the field, Singleton takes no prisoners on it. With 53 defensive tackles and nine more on special teams, he has been a quick study in ascent, having supplanted veteran Tank Reed as the Stamps’ man in the middle by the time early September rolled around.

He’s owned the starter’s job ever since.

Singleton’s in a chatty mood on the day we talk – maybe he always is – gladly offering up insights on what makes him tick; everything from his habit of hitting the weight room at 5:30 in the morning to the play that made it clear to him that he had arrived, to his desire to get more involved with the community in Calgary. He is affable and thoughtful and especially buoyant when speaking of his older sister, 25-year-old Ashley, who has been a source of inspiration and joy for as long as he can remember.

“My older sister, Ashley, has Down Syndrome,” says Singleton, who attended a Special Olympics Breakfast With Champions in Calgary earlier this week, along with teammate Zach Minter. “My entire life, I have grown up with it and she has been a participant in Special Olympics, I would say, as long as I can remember.”

I’ll get to more on Singleton and his cherished relationship with Ashley and Special Olympics, but first, a focus on his quick rise to prominence in the Stampeders’ defensive corps.

By now you’re probably well aware of Singleton’s path to the CFL, but if not, here’s quick refresher: After his college days with Montana State and three tryout tours in the NFL, Singleton discovered that he could attain national status in the CFL, due to his mother, Kim, being a native of Toronto. Singleton got his Canadian citizenship and was nabbed by the Stampeders, sixth overall, in the 2016 CFL draft. It was assumed, that day, that Calgary had gotten a real gem and that has proven to be the case, as Singleton has been a productive part of one of the league’s best defences.

From the first day of training camp, Singleton looked pretty well at home. Partly because he feels very good on a football field and partly because his daily preparation is thorough, including those early morning weight-training sessions, something he’s done since college.

“You always read that if you work out first thing in the morning, you feel better all day and I believe in that,” he says, adding that he rewards himself with post-practice naps at a time when most of his teammates opt to hit the gym. It can be a little lonely so early in the morning and Singleton reports that he and quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell are the two players most often strolling into the team’s offices at that time.

Singleton was out to prove a few things about himself at camp. Feeling comfortable with the gridiron if not the social customs of his new locker room buddies, he was already certain of the type of player he’d set out to be and what he wanted to showcase in the CFL.

“First and foremost, I would say I’m a smart player,” he says. “I like to always be in the right position. I’m fast and physical, from sideline to sideline, but can also cover your fastest receiver. I don’t get put in that position often,” he chuckles, “but I like to believe I could do it.”

“Being the most dynamic player you can be is what makes someone special,” he explains, “not just a guy that can button press a lineman.

“Or just a guy that can run sideline to sideline, just a guy that fills gaps or just a guy that drops (into pass coverage). I like to take the best from every aspect of the game and make it my own and be able to do everything.”

“I’m fast and physical, from sideline to sideline, but can also cover your fastest receiver. I don’t get put in that position often, but I like to believe I could do it.”

Alex Singleton

Stampeders.com

Singleton takes down Ottawa REDBLACKS’ Patrick Lavoie (Stampeders.com)

The Stampeders, having parted with stalwart veteran Juwan Simpson during the off-season, had signed Taylor Reed as a free agent in order to fill the void. If the kid they drafted a few months later needed a season to blossom, there were no worries. Reed was capable of filling the bill. So was the kid, it turns out, who rotated reps with Reed through the early portion of the season and into August. By the end of the month it was apparent that the rookie could handle the load of being a starter. The Stamps released Reed (now in Ottawa) a couple of days after the Labour Day re-match with Edmonton.

If there was a breakout game, a breakout moment for Singleton, it came very early in the season. With a minute and a half remaining in a Week 3 game in Ottawa, the REDBLACKS were driving for what appeared to be a certain touchdown or field goal and a win, which would have dropped the Stampeders to a record of 1-2.

Flying out of the end zone, Singleton lowered the boom on running back Nic Grigsby at the one yard line, forcing a fumble that Calgary defensive back Josh Bell would recover, and salvaging a tie. It was a monster play and one Singleton was happy to make, considering he had taken a roughing the passer penalty earlier in the drive, allowing Ottawa to continue the march.

“It’s one of the plays that started my roll, giving me confidence,” says Singleton adding that he felt he needed to make amends for the penalty, even though he quarrelled with the call. It was a spectacular bit of football and one that gave him self-assurance because it felt very familiar.

“It was who I am,” he says of the play. “What I knew inside, what I knew in my head, was getting shown.”

That play was a harbinger of things to come and within weeks, Alex Singleton was doing that sort of thing on a regular basis.

Breakfast With Champions

Getting the chance to attend the Special Olympics “Breakfast With Champions” was a welcome occurrence for Singleton, who is looking to take on a bigger community role in Calgary.

“This was the first thing I’ve done so far this year but I definitely wanna get really involved with it because it’s what I’ve done my whole life,” says Singleton, who has previously volunteered to help special needs kids in the classroom.

“Hopefully this off-season and these next coming weeks I can start developing something and get stuff going because it is one of my true passions and I love doing it.”

His sister Ashley is a multi-sport athlete, having competed in swimming, gymnastics and soccer. “She would like it if I told you her specialty was swimming, for sure,” says Singleton, obviously proud to talk about Ashley’s accomplishments. “She swims all the races. The individual medley, the breaststroke, freestyle and the backstroke.”

Pitching in to help with Special Olympics is something that Singleton finds so very rewarding and inspiring.

“Oh, yeah,” he says when asked about being inspired by Ashley, the oldest of four children in the Singleton family (Alex is second in line, followed by Matt and Melissa). “Not even just my sister but her friends and everyone around us. Just the joy she gets out of everything she does every day. She can always find the positive in something.”

“It’s incredible. I bring my friends around and its the happiest times in their lives because my sister wants to know so much about them and will just, you know, love on them so much. And it’s like, wow, for nothing (in return). It’s one of the most amazing things.”

That kind of love and acceptance, Singleton says, is in abundance when you’re in the presence of Special Olympians.

“It’s about being happy and finding the gold in something that’s not good,” he says of them.

“And I’ve loved that my whole life and it’s always been one of the biggest parts of my life.”