When Alex Singleton arrived in Calgary, he knew that he needed to work harder than everyone else to be a great linebacker. He had the mindset that he wanted to be the best player in the CFL.
“You know those first round-picks that come on right away and feel like they don’t need to put in that extra work cause they are already good? Alex was just not that guy,” said Brent Monson of the Calgary Stampeders.
Singleton had a unique journey to the NFL. Before Singleton became a fan favorite in Philadelphia, he spent three seasons in the Canadian Football League.
Singleton went undrafted out of Montana State to the Seattle Seahawks but was released before the 2015 season. He had a short stint in New England before being released by the Minnesota Vikings in April 2016.
With not being able to find a permanent home in the NFL, Singleton explored other options. His mom was born in Toronto, which opened the door for him to get a Canadian passport. He was eligible for the 2016 CFL Draft and was selected by the Calgary Stampeders 6th overall.
Singleton decided to take his talents to Canada and signed with Calgary in May of 2016. Brent Monson, the current defensive coordinator of the Calgary Stampeders, was the Linebackers coach in Calgary during Singleton’s three seasons. When I spoke with Brent, he said they were excited to draft Singleton.
“Alex’s tape checked all the boxes. We landed him 6th overall, which turned out to be a great pick for us obviously.”
One thing that caught Brent’s attention right away was how smart of a football player Singleton was.
“When he first came in you could tell he had all the things you could want in a Mike Linebacker.”
Brent compared Singleton’s football mind to one of the best CFL running backs of all-time in Jon Cornish.
“Those two guys were two of the smartest football players I have ever been around.”
Singleton had no trouble adjusting to the CFL. He played in all 18 games in 2016, finishing with 65 tackles on defense, and looked to be an integral part of the Stampeders defense going forward.
In 2017, everything came together for Singleton. He exploded out of the gate, racking up 23 tackles, and a forced fumble in his first three games of the season. He was now the leader of the Calgary Stampeders defense.
He continued to take the league by storm in 2017. Singleton had one of the most dominant three-week stretches in recent memory. In Weeks 11-13, Singleton had 35 tackles and two sacks. If there was any doubt that he was the best defensive player in the league, that doubt quickly faded.
Singleton finished the season with 123 tackles, six sacks, and one interception. He went on to win the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the year award in 2017. He also was selected for his first CFL all-star game.
Not only was Singleton terrific on the field, but his off-field work also wore off on his teammates. Jameer Thurman is a linebacker for the Calgary Stampeders and was brought in before the 2017 season. He said Singleton’s work ethic stood out right when he got there.
“I saw immediately, in the first week of me being there, his dedication to his craft. He was in the building before everybody. He got his lift in before basically anybody was at the stadium, and he was ready to go at early meetings with a snack right after his early lifts.”
Singleton was a great player on the field, but he was also a great teammate, says Jameer:
“Alex got along with everyone, especially in the linebacker room. He always took the initiative to make sure the linebackers did stuff together outside of football. That was something that stuck with me, and that I try to incorporate in with the other teams that I have been on.”
The Stampeders ultimately lost to the Toronto Argonauts in the Grey Cup in 2017, but that did not slow down Singleton and his dedication to winning.
The Stampeders finished the 2018 season 13-5, led by Singleton on defense. He ended the season with 123 tackles and did not miss a beat from his 2017 season. The Stampeders would go on to win the 2018 Grey Cup, which was something that Singleton will remember for the rest of his life.
“To win in 2018, it was special. A lot of those guys I have played with have been there since 2014 when they won, and a lot of those guys have been there through disappointing years. A lot of people said this team is going to go there and lose again and to finally wrap it all up, it was really special. It’s still the screensaver on my phone, and it’s probably the most exciting night of my life.”
After winning the 2018 Grey Cup, it was time for Singleton and his teammates to celebrate.
“We partied for a good week. I lost my voice, it was the best time.”
With the Grey Cup being on November 25th, Singleton had a quick turnaround to try and get back into the NFL. On January 7th, 2019, Singleton signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. He started on the practice squad in 2019 but became a special teams contributor six weeks into the season. He played in ten games in 2019 and set himself up nicely for a more significant role in 2020.
Singleton emerged as one of the most efficient linebackers in football last season. He won the starting linebacker job in Week 6 and never looked back. He finished the season with 120 tackles, five TFLs, and one interception that he returned for a touchdown in Week 4. Singleton’s 120 tackles were good for 15th in the entire NFL.
Singleton has taken advantage of every opportunity that has come his way. Going to the CFL is not an easy transition. The game is much faster due to the size of the field and the pre-snap motion. You have to be quick on your feet, especially as a middle linebacker.
To watch Singleton come into the NFL and carve out a starting linebacker position is genuinely remarkable. Singleton has one of the most intriguing upbringings in the NFL today. He has proven that hard work pays off and that you should never give up on your dreams.