Five years ago, Mo Alie-Cox was in Salt Lake City preparing for the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
On Tuesday, he signed a contract extension with the Indianapolis Colts.
From one version of March Madness to another, right?
In the five years since he decided to give football a shot, Alie-Cox established himself as a reliable, ascending player worthy of being part of the Colts' future plans.
"For the longest when I was playing college, everyone would always tell me, you're going to be in the NFL one day," Alie-Cox said. "Me, at that point, I'm only worried about the NBA, I'm not thinking about football – football's not for me.
"But now look at where we are. It's kind of surreal to see."
Alie-Cox will enter his sixth season with the Colts as the most senior member of the team's tight end room. Jack Doyle's retirement means Alie-Cox, who has 70 catches for 936 yards over 57 games, will be looked to as a leader – a role he feels ready to take on in 2022 and beyond.
"I literally was saying all the time last year like man, when Jack retires, it's going to feel so weird playing without Jack because he's been my teammate for the last five years and he's always in my ear," Alie-Cox said. "Even when I know what I'm doing, Jack's telling me — you go here, you go here. Sometimes I'm like man, I know.
"But now I don't even have that reassurance right there, but it's going to feel great taking the next step in my career and being a leader and leading the tight end group. We'll see where we can take it."
Alie-Cox will re-enter the Colts' tight end room with the credentials to be a leader in it. He played in all 17 games last season, didn't miss a practice and played a career high 609 snaps (55 percent). He credited his durability and availability to a change in his diet – cutting back on red meat, eating healthier and not eating after 7:30 p.m. – with allowing him to feel as fresh as he's ever felt for every single one of those snaps.
And Alie-Cox caught a career high four touchdowns in 2021 while continuing his ascent as one of the NFL's best run-blocking tight ends. His 71.4 Pro Football Focus run blocking grade was the sixth-highest among tight ends in 2021 and represented the fourth year in a row he's improved in that area of his game – growth with which he credited tight ends coach Klayton Adams, a former offensive line coach.
"I just felt fresh everywhere week going into a game, which was like — most other seasons going into Sunday, I never really felt 100 percent going into a game," Alie-Cox said. "Something was always hurting. Getting that experience this year and seeing how my body felt, I think it's going to help me the rest of my career because I know what I need to do now in order to be available on Sundays."
The Colts on Tuesday signed tight end Mo Alie-Cox to a contract extension. A former basketball standout at Virginia Commonwealth, Alie-Cox signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2017. He made his NFL debut in 2018 and has appeared in 57 games for the Colts since, catching 70 passes for 936 yards with eight touchdowns. Pro Football Focus rated Alie-Cox as the ninth-best tight end in the NFL since the start of the 2020 season.
Between the off-the-field knowledge Alie-Cox has gained and his expertise in Frank Reich's offense – 2022 will be his fifth year in it – Alie-Cox feels ready to take on the challenge of leading a group of teammates.
On Tuesday, though, the reality of the moment was still setting in for Alie-Cox. A friend texted him asking he if cried when he agreed to his contract extension – he didn't – but he's still processing the journey he's taken.
"It's kind of crazy when you think about it," Alie-Cox said. "It's always crazy to me when I think about it that I'm still playing football. Because coming from basketball, I didn't even know I would be here this long, let alone be with the team team this long."