Joe Dodson, Contributing Writer
Every player fortunate enough to suit up in an NFL jersey has a unique story of how they got there. Some players tap skills they developed on college basketball courts, while others are scouted after showing their strength on the track.
Athleticism, catching skills and a game-heavy mindset are just some of the invaluable skills needed for a career in the professional league, but they aren’t always fostered in college football.
What NFL tight end and VCU alumnus Mo Alie-Cox lacks in football experience, he makes up for with the skills he learned from playing high-level basketball.
Alie-Cox has been fantastic for the Indianapolis Colts, which has given VCU fans a new team to root for on Sundays. He’s even gained national attention for his highlight plays.
Ryan Clark, an ESPN reporter and former NFL safety, shouted out Alie-Cox after the Colts’ week four win against the Chicago Bears.
“Wait, did Mo Alie-Cox make another play for Phillip Rivers and this Colts offense,” Clark tweeted after Alie-Cox caught his fourth career receiving touchdown. “Been tryna tell y’all.”
It is easy to see why NFL fans might have discounted Alie-Cox. Prior to being signed, the former Ram had not played organized football since he was a freshman in high school. But Alie-Cox offered elite athleticism, which VCU fans witnessed through his 663 career rebounds and 255 career blocks.
As the all-time leader in field goal percentage at VCU, Alie-Cox always had a knack for big plays. His vertical and wingspan helped him catch passes outside of the defenders’ reach. His balance –– which was needed as a low-post basketball player –– has served him well as it often takes two defenders to tackle him.
Colts quarterback Phillip Rivers was half of one of the most historic quarterback and tight end combos of all time. He worked with tight end Antonio Gates during his tenure with the San Diego Chargers.
Like Alie-Cox, Gates played college basketball instead of football at Kent State. He ended his career as the Chargers’ leader in receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns. According to the team, Gates will become eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2023 as “one of the most prolific players to ever compete in the National Football League.”
Gates and Alie-Cox had great frames for playing tight-end. At 6-foot-6-inches and over 260 pounds, Alie-Cox’s physical presence made him dominant in college hoops and helped his transition to football.
Lawrence Okoye signed with the San Francisco 49ers after an impressive track and field career in Great Britain. The 6-foot-6-inch, 310-pound defensive tackle did not play football prior to his 49ers contract, but like Alie-Cox, his athleticism spoke for itself.
As a former Olympic discus thrower, Okoye attracted pro scouts with his strength. His experience in rugby was a bonus to the NFL scouts — several league teams have former rugby players on their rosters.
“He’s just an Adonis. Just a great physical specimen of a man,” former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said after signing Okoye. “Our creator created a beautiful man.”
Many football players’ stories have bad endings. Most do not make it to the league, and few
who do ever have significant success. Alie-Cox has already overachieved his status as an
undrafted practice squad, signing with over 400 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
According to the NCAA, only 1.6% of college football players will play in the NFL. Of that 1.6%, many never see action during the regular season. The average NFL career is 3.3 years, according to Statista. Alie-Cox is now on his fourth NFL season after being signed by the Colts in 2017.
Alie-Cox makes history as a player who wasn’t in collegiate football with his athleticism, technique and a VCU chip on his shoulder that has led many former Rams to find success in the professional ranks.
Alie-Cox is currently dealing with a knee injury. The Colts are back in action Nov. 1 against the Detroit Lions.