There was a time when Mo Alie-Cox was a defensive nightmare. He had his own chant — “Mo says no!” — that would ring through the Siegel Center on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. In his 2015-16 redshirt junior season, Alie-Cox led the Athletic 10 Conference in blocks and set a set a single-season record for field goal percentage at VCU.
Alie-Cox plays professional ball now. But he traded his sneakers for cleats, traded a shooting sleeve for shoulder pads, even traded defense for offense.
Alie-Cox is in his third season as a tight end for the Indianapolis Colts, the team that gave him a shot in April 2017 by signing him as an undrafted free agent. He played in nine games last season, catching seven passes for 133 yards. Four of those receptions went for at least 20 yards.
It’s not surprising to see someone who’s 6-foot-5, 267 pounds playing professional football, but the 25-year-old Alie-Cox has spent most of his young adult life posting up on the block and using his 85-inch wingspan (as measured at VCU) to alter and block shots. How’d that guy end up in football?
“I’m only 6’5” 6’6”, and I played power forward, center,” he said at his locker recently after practice. “In the NBA that’s considered short. All of them are 6’10”, 7 feet. I was like, might as well go play football.”
Imagine that: being “only” 6-foot-5, thinking you “might as well” go try this other sport professionally. Alie-Cox does have a point, though. His body translates better to the football field than a basketball court, where he would have to develop other parts of his game to be successful in the NBA.
NFL people saw this too. A scout for the Philadelphia Eagles in the Richmond, Virginia, area was a friend of former VCU basketball coach Shaka Smart, who now coaches at the University of Texas. The scout told Alie-Cox he could have a future in football. That was during his freshman year, though, so he brushed it off.
“I was not thinking about football at all,” he said, “but time went by and that’s literally all everyone talked about, me playing football.”
The last time Alie-Cox played football was as a ninth grader in high school. His parents divorced, and moving back and forth happened to eat into the part of the year when he would have been playing football. He focused on basketball instead and got a scholarship to VCU.
After getting a degree in criminal justice, he had a decision to make. Basketball or football? He chose football in part because, as he explained, he would have been undersized in the NBA. But he also had insurance on this risk.
“Why not give the NFL a shot?” he said. “If it doesn’t work out, I can always go back to playing basketball.”
Alie-Cox played on the Colts’ practice team in 2017 but had the benefit of learning from Jack Doyle, one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Alie-Cox called him “one of the smartest guys I’ve been around on a football field,” although that’s a compliment coming from someone who played in his last amateur football game before he could drive.
There was also Darrell Daniels, now with the Arizona Cardinals, who lived in the same apartment complex as Alie-Cox and helped him study the game. The Colts also added Eric Ebron, an afterthought of a tight end before he was traded from the Detroit Lions and caught 13 touchdowns last season.
Alie-Cox is third on the depth chart in a group of talented tight ends, but the undersized-center-turned-football-player is part of what’s given the Colts one of the best tight end units in the NFL.
When football comes to an end — at this point it looks like that won’t be because he flunked — Alie-Cox has something else he can fall back on. Not basketball, but the criminal justice field. He has a master’s degree in criminal justice and homeland security. He’s not sure what he would do exactly, but it’s there. And at any rate, he doesn’t feel rushed.
“Just right now, I’ve started having success here,” he said. “I really haven’t thought too much about it, but I know I’ll always have that to fall back on.”
What a luxury, always having something to fall back on.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.