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November 23, 2017

SINGLETON NAMED TOP DEFENDER

OTTAWA – He had the look coming in.

And left with the hardware, too.

“A hundred percent,’’ said a cowboy-themed Alex Singleton, toting the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player trophy. “The Smithbilt hat sets it off.

“It’s what Calgary’s made of, the Stampede Hat.

“Always.”

The ball-pursuit middle linebacker from Thousand Oaks, Calif., has embraced the community he’s chosen to call home and it’s adopted him right back.

A dynamic rookie campaign in 2016 gave way to an award-winning 2017.

“He’s a leader,’’ praised head coach Dave Dickenson. “He communicates all the calls. He keeps the energy up.

“He’s a football player, through and through. He loves the game. Loves banging in there, hitting guys, talks a little trash. He’s been the best player on what we consider the best defence in the league.

“He’s fully deserving.”

On the league’s stingiest defence, Singleton proved to be the centrepiece, the emotional and competitive fulcrum.

His 123 tackles ranked second behind B.C.’s Solomon Elimimian.

No one, though, not even Solly, can claim to have exerted as much impact over 18 games as No. 49 in Red-and-White.

“I know the defence now,’’ explained Singleton. “I’m more mature in our system. I didn’t have to learn anybody’s name first day of practice; I knew everybody.

“I live in Calgary, so I started working in March. I knew our entire defence. So I didn’t show up Day 1 sputtering my tires in the mud. I was on the race track, in first place, ready to race.

“Makes a big difference, having the understanding of what’s going on, instead of being a rookie and trying to breathe for the first time.”

His family flying in from California made the night extra sweet for Singleton. His sister Kim is a particularly hardcore Stampeder booster and was almost inconsolable following last year’s Grey Cup loss.

“Right now, she’s ecstatic,’’ reported her brother. “She was so excited. As you guys know, she wants Calgary to win in everything.”

Broad-based individual recognition is new to the 23-year-old. But given his age and career trajectory, he’d better get used to it.

“In college, I was our team defensive MVP,’’ Singleton recalled. “But as I said that was for just our team. Never a league, never a conference. I’ve been an all-star in high school, an all-conference player, an All-American.

“But never individually the highest or the best.

“Everyone tells you: Set team goals, set individual goals. So obviously my first individual goal was to be defensive player of the year.

“It’s awesome.”

Prowling in behind the Stamps’ defensive front, Singleton can’t help but have a profound influence on Grey Cup Sunday.

One down. One to go.

The Double is now the aim.

“As exciting as this is, a couple congratulations and we move on,’’ emphasized Singleton. “I think we experienced that last year, getting hung up days or awards. There’s only one award we can all win together, share together

“It was tough for Bo last year, to win MOP and then fall a play or two short of winning a Grey Cup.

“Like I said, this award is great. But winning that second award, the big one, would mean I’ve hit all the goals I set at the beginning of the year.

“Winning Sunday would really make this a week, a season, to remember.”