Calgary Stampeders linebacker Alex Singleton (49) reacts during second half CFL football action against the Toronto Argonauts in Toronto on Thursday, August 3, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
CALGARY — A torrid pace in tackles combined with long hair erupting from his helmet in post-play celebration poses, Alex Singleton is having a CFL season that commands attention.
The Calgary Stampeders middle linebacker is tied for the league lead in defensive tackles at 80 alongside a master in the art — B.C. Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian.
The Stampeders (9-1-1) will host Elimimian and the Lions (6-5) on Saturday at McMahon Stadium.
Calgary is coming off gruelling back-to-back wins over the Edmonton Eskimos that thinned both teams' ranks with injuries.
Singleton was a standout, however, with a combined 24 tackles in the two games plus a quarterback sack on Labour Day.
"You've got to step up in big games. That's when you want to play your best," Singleton said Tuesday following practice.
"I always like to think it's the beginning of the second half of the season. This is where you have to win and if you can win those two games, it's huge on what the season is going to lay out for us.
"I took those thoughts into those games, flew around and did my job."
With seven games remaining in the regular season, the 23-year-old is on pace to beat Calgary's franchise record of 116 defensive tackles held by George White (2005), as well as the league's Canadian player record of 113 held by former Toronto Argonaut Kevin Eiben (2005).
At six foot two and 235 pounds, Singleton possesses the size as well as the foot speed and relentlessness required of a middle linebacker. He's an impact player in a defence ranked No. 1 in the CFL.
"If you want to be a downhill running team, he's going to have a great day because he's going to be flying around," defensive co-ordinator DeVone Claybrooks said.
As Claybrooks puts it, the middle linebacker is also "the quarterback of the defence." Singleton communicates formations and schemes to his defence.
"If we're in a bad situation, he knows what they are, what to get us out of, what we're safe in," he explained. "Especially in our defence, you can't be a dummy at linebacker."
Singleton says he's much more comfortable in that leadership role in his second CFL season than in 2016, when he replaced the experienced and charismatic Juwan Simpson in the middle.
"It's so much easier coming into a camp and being the starter ... instead of coming in and not knowing anything," Singleton said. "It's a huge difference to have a whole year under your belt and having the guys trust (me)."
Singleton gained the respect of a veteran-laden defence via a combination of performance and homework, according to Claybrooks.
"They understand he's a player and how much work he puts in," Claybrooks said. "It's easy to listen to a guy when they know he's put in that time."
Singleton's mother Kim was born in Toronto, which gives him national status in the CFL. Born in Thousand Oaks, Calif., the Montana State alum obtained his Canadian citizenship in 2015.
But other than a trip to Toronto at the age of two for a wedding, Singleton hadn't set foot in Canada prior to 2016 when Calgary drafted him sixth overall.
He now makes Calgary his year-round home. Singleton was firing a T-shirt cannon into the stands at the Calgary Stampede rodeo finals in July.
"I have the mix, for me personally, of L.A. and Montana here. Big city, but the small-town feel," he explained. "And just the people accepting me as a full Canadian, which is awesome. I embrace it."
As for those celebrations after a big play, Singleton just wants everyone to have as good a time as he is.
"Especially with the fans here, if you're celebrating and interacting with them and they're having fun and a good time, it makes for a better event for everybody."
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press