BILLINGS — Alex Singleton wakes up every morning in his childhood bedroom in Thousand Oaks, California, retreats to the gym constructed by his dad in the garage and focuses on the task of continuing the upward trend he’s created for himself as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
This isn’t your typical moving-back-in-with-mom-and-dad story because right now Singleton has no better option. Such is life in the age of COVID-19.
The sociable and good-humored Singleton, a star linebacker at Montana State from 2011-14, finished the 2019 campaign on the Eagles’ 53-man active roster and has every intention of staying there.
But he knows he’ll have to earn it largely through virtual workouts and meetings during this time of uncertainty, with team facilities still shuttered league-wide, in lieu of in-person organized team activities.
“Luckily my dad put together an awesome garage gym,” Singleton, 26, said during an interview with 406mtsports.com. “We have everything that you could ever need, from dumbbells to kettlebells to every kind of bar you can work with.
“For years we always made fun of him for having a gym in the garage that no one uses, but now it’s where I live.”
Undrafted but with All-America credentials as an outside linebacker at Montana State, Singleton spent time on practice squads with the Seahawks, Patriots and Vikings before embarking on a three-year stint with Calgary of the CFL that produced a Grey Cup championship, a league defensive MVP award and two all-star nods.
He signed a futures contract with Philadelphia last year and was eventually promoted to the active roster, taking 198 special teams snaps in 10 regular season games. He made eight tackles, fourth-most on the squad.
These are especially interesting times for a player fighting for his NFL life, but Singleton is going about his business with tunnel vision.
“The only thing I can do every day is get better,” he said. “Get as strong as I can on my own and get as fast as I can on my own. For guys in my situation, how hard are you willing to work on your own? How much of a pro are you?
“I think it’s easy to be a pro when you’re around other pros, but when you’re by yourself it’s about who’s actually putting that 100% into each rep or each run. That’s my mindset every day. That’s all you can hope for, because that’s the situation we’re in.”
Singleton thought he made a good impression in Philadelphia last year. If he hadn’t, he’d have been bumped back down to the practice squad. But he remained active all the way through the Eagles’ wild card playoff loss to Seattle.
The coaching staff seems to like what he has to offer: In a story posted to the team’s website last fall, linebackers coach Ken Flajole called Singleton (6-2, 240) a “tough nut” with a seemingly high upside. Singleton said special teams coach Dave Fipp has provided a positive influence.
Once he was activated, Singleton’s first game was in Week 7 at Dallas in front of a nationally televised Sunday night audience. He was on the field, lined up on the Cowboys’ star logo at midfield, when the ball was kicked off to start the game.
It was the realization of a dream he said he’s had since first or second grade.
“Just to play in the NFL, there’s nothing else like it,” he said.
Singleton said the next transition will include a role on defense in the Eagles’ linebacker rotation, if he can worm his way in. But he will never shy away from his special teams role because of its importance, understated as it is.
“You earn the right to be a dog on special teams,” Singleton said. “If you prove you can do it you want to keep doing it, even if you are playing defense or you’re a starter on defense. If you can contribute on special teams, the whole team is just going to be better.
“You’ve got to be able to outwork everybody on special teams and then focus completely on defense when it’s your turn.”
There could be an intriguing subplot to Singleton’s odyssey when training camp opens this summer, because he is likely to compete with rookie linebacker Dante Olson, an undrafted free agent out of Montana who signed with the Eagles on April 25.
Olson was a tackling machine with the Grizzlies, and won the Buck Buchanan Award this past season as the top defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Singleton vows he’ll be supportive — but acknowledges he has some Cat-Griz bragging rights.
“I know he’s a good kid. I know he won the Buck Buchanan (last) year, which is huge,” Singleton said of Olson. “The first team I signed with was Seattle when (former Griz) Brock Coyle was there. I still talk to Brock and still ask Brock questions and we catch up and see how each other is doing. It’s one of those things where if you get further down the line it’s more of a brotherhood.”
“I can’t wait to help (Olson). It will be fun. Since he’s coming out this year he had to have gone 0-4 against the Cats, so he can’t say much,” Singleton said impishly. “But it will just be fun to have somebody in the room that you can relate to — an undrafted guy that played in Montana.
“Not a lot of guys have done it. It’s a special thing to be able to have a guy that you can help out and wish nothing but the most success for.”
What kind of a pro is Singleton? That right there should answer your question.
In the meantime, he looks forward to the day he can step back on to the football field — and out of his parents’ house.