October 18, 2017

Singleton is a triple awards threat

Alex Singleton during the 2017 Labour Day Classic (Photo by David Moll)

Alex Singleton is drawn to the football. As basic as that.

Single-mindedly. Relentlessly. Naturally.

The way iron filings are drawn to a magnet.

“No. 1,’’ says safety Joshua Bell, “Alex knows his job. To be a good player, you have to capitalize on the plays you’re supposed to make. All the plays that come to you.

“Some guys are pretty good but they this might miss that tackle, maybe don’t get their hands up when they’re rushing the passer the way they’ve been coached.

“So that, making the plays that are there to be made, makes him a good player. A cut above the rest. What makes him a great player, puts him in that elite level where he is now, is making the special plays.

“You gotta show that drive that within the team structure.

“You gotta want it.

“When it’s time to win the game, Alex believes he’s going to do that for us. Same as a quarterback or a receiver. Bo (Levi Mitchell) wants that ball in his hands on the last play with the game in the balance, right? He thrives in that type of situation.

“Well, Alex wants that ball-carrier dead in his sights. No different.”

Three years ago, of course, Solomon Elimimian struck a blow for defensive stalwarts everywhere, voters going off the customary form chart to present the BC middle linebacker the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award – usually the exclusive domain of the offensive glamour boys – on the strength of an eye-popping, record-setting 143-tackle season.

So a precedent has been set.

Well, 2017 award ballots are out shortly. And given the sheer dominance of the Calgary Stampeders’ defence in fashioning an unparalleled 13-1-1 record and the lack of a whiz-bang, light-outs turn from any of the usual offensive suspects, the here-there-and-everywhere Stamp linebacker is being talked up.

That touchdown-resistant Stampeder D has grudgingly surrendered 116 points fewer than any other team. So selecting a “best,” singling one out among the many, is no easy task.

But operating as the beating heart of the resistance, piling up attention-grabbing tackle numbers, Singleton has drawn deserved attention.

In fact, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he might, in only his second season, owing to his non-international status despite being born in Thousand Oaks. Calif., collect MOP, Most Outstanding Defensive Player and Most Outstanding Canadian awards.

Imagine that as a hardware trifecta.

“Team goals always come first. But before the season starts, everyone sets individual goals, too, of course,’’ concedes Singleton, as the Stamps continued preparations for their potential first-place clinching Friday tilt against the Saskatchewan Roughriders at McMahon Stadium. “The highest is MOP. Day One, you start the season wanting to win that. We all do.

“If you don’t want to be considered the best, why are you playing sports for a living?

“Awards are nice, fun to think about. Just being mentioned is an honour. But only if they come along with the ultimate prize. That ring’s the thing.

“Without that Grey Cup, nothing else would be nearly as sweet.”

Heading into Week 16, his 108 defensive tackles rank second, trailing only Elimimian’s 119 aggregate and are currently just eight off the Red and White franchise record held by linebacker George White.

“Oh man, there is nothing to compare,’’ says Singleton, “with making that big tackle and hearing the crowd roar. Doing the right thing, being in the right spot.

“Feeling it, knowing the play is going to come, then making it … there is no better feeling.”

No Stampeder has collected the Most Outstanding Defensive Player honour since linebacker John Grace a dozen years ago.

“In my opinion, Alex is one of the, if not THE, best defensive players, overall playmakers, in the league,’’ lauds veteran ’backer Deron Mayo. “He disrupts any offence that comes into Our House.

“It’s hard to get 100 tackles in this defence because our offence is so good, because we’re not on the field as long as some other teams and because of the talent.

“You’ve got all-stars at every position here.

“To stand out in a cast like that isn’t easy to do.”

Stand out, though, Singleton has. He’s a human Hoover in that second wave of defence, vacuuming up trouble.

An MOP nod for such a stellar season would be quite the feat. And Singleton has, at any rate, watched how the dynamic works in action.

“I room on the road with Bo. I work out in the off-season with him. And he is the MOP. I still believe he’s the best player. I know what he means to this team. He’s our leader. Our difference-maker.

“So be considered anywhere near where he is, in the same sentence even, well, that’s pretty cool on its own.”

Could Alex Singleton follow Elimimian’s lead and land the CFL’s biggest prize? And maybe – just maybe – even do the triple?

Don’t rule out the possibility.

Why, if Joshua Bell (admittedly a trifle biased) had a vote …

“Alex? He should be MOP,’’ says the loquacious safety flatly. “To me, that means the most impactful player on the best team. Just look at the way our defence has played this whole season and what he’s meant to it.

“You’ve had offensive guys hit hot streaks. Ricky Ray, early. (Matt) Nichols. Bo. Andrew Harris tore it up in stretches. Great players.

“Alex has done it every single game. Every single game.

“That’s what an MOP does.

“Right now, you tell me: Who deserves it more?”