BILLINGS — Alex Singleton still holds the Montana State football program close to his heart. When news broke Wednesday of Kane Ioane being named the Bobcats’ new defensive coordinator, Singleton was instinctively elated.
“I’m just so excited for coach Ioane to get that opportunity,” Singleton said during a phone interview with 406mtsports.com. “He’s the best coach in the world to me, still. A best friend now, but somebody I really look up to.”
Singleton’s football quest essentially began during his high school career in Thousand Oaks, California. It was then that Ioane gave Singleton the chance no one else would.
“He was the only coach that I actually got an offer from,” Singleton said. “He’s the guy that came and sat in my living room and told my parents that he’d give me an opportunity to play.”
Singleton parlayed that opportunity into an All-Big Sky Conference and All-America stint as a linebacker at MSU from 2011-14, then went on to star with Calgary of the Canadian Football League, which culminated in a Grey Cup championship in November.
The 2017 CFL defensive player of the year, Singleton is now maneuvering back into the NFL. On Tuesday, Singleton signed a reserve/futures contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. He’ll report to the team in April for organized team activities and will participate in training camp during the summer in an effort to make the 53-man roster.
For all of the success he had as one of the top players in the CFL, Singleton has larger professional goals.
“I did everything I could in the CFL to kind of put on display who I was as a football player,” Singleton said. “That’s not a shot at the CFL; I would love to stay there. But with my age and just kind of where I’m at mentally, it’s time for me to take a shot again at the NFL.
“I feel ready to go and ready for this opportunity to go make a team and hopefully go make a big impact in the NFL.”
Singleton was part of two Big Sky Conference championship teams at Montana State. He collected 269 total tackles and 37.5 tackles for loss in his career, and was named first-team All-Big Sky and third-team All-America, as well as the Bobcats' defensive MVP, after his senior year in 2014.
Following his career with the Bobcats, Singleton was cut from NFL teams on six occasions. Three times he was sent packing by the Seahawks, while his two tries with the Patriots and a single opportunity with the Vikings also came up empty.
But Singleton, 25, believes he is more NFL-ready this time, despite the many differences that exist in the Canadian game — in particular, they play with 12 men per side up north, and the field is longer by 10 yards and wider by 15.
“As a linebacker, I don’t think the CFL game is much different from the NFL game,” Singleton said. “The field is bigger, obviously, so the CFL, in all reality, was harder. It’s harder to go sideline to sideline, and it’s harder to cover kicks because every special teams play in the CFL has to be returned.
“Defensively, covering a running back out of the backfield when it’s 15 yards wider, it’s a lot tougher. Not that they’re better than NFL running backs — that’s not true — but the athletic ability and ways for them to create space is equal to or better than the NFL.
“Being able to cover those guys for the last three years really changed my ability to cover backs out of the backfield. The one thing you obviously lose in the CFL is tight ends, so going back and covering tight ends will be different. But outside of that I think I translate really well with the lessons I’ve learned in the CFL.”
In three seasons with Calgary, Singleton made 311 total tackles and forced six fumbles. He was the league’s defensive MVP in 2017 after posting 123 tackles, four sacks and an interception.
The Stampeders, coached by former Montana Grizzlies quarterback and newly elected college football hall of famer Dave Dickenson, reached the Grey Cup final in each of the previous three years. They finally prevailed this past season with a 27-16 victory over Ottawa.
“I understand now why people say you chase championships in sports,” said Singleton, who had eight tackles in the Stamps’ Grey Cup win. “It was the greatest feeling in the world, especially since we lost those first two.
“To be able to win and bring that home and to be able to be a champion the rest of my life, you can’t beat that.”
Though he won’t report to Philadelphia until the spring, Singleton will have his eyes on the team as it continues to play in the NFL postseason. Last week the Eagles beat the Bears on the road in a wild-card game, and are now preparing to face the Saints in New Orleans on Sunday.
Singleton hopes to have an immediate effect with the Eagles next season.
“At the end of it, if the money was the same and the life opportunity that you can create in the NFL was the same in the CFL, I wouldn’t leave,” he said. “The impact I believe I had on the city of Calgary and the CFL, I wouldn’t trade that for a minute.”
“Everyone’s definition of ‘making it’ is different,” he said. “I want to make the team and be remembered. That’s the reason you play. You don’t play to be average, you play to be great.”