Back in May, the Colts dragged a basketball hoop out to the practice fields at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. The team's reward for wrapping up another day of work on 56th Street was a game of knockout.
All eyes, of course, went to the former college basketball star-turned-tight-end. Mo Alie-Cox is Virginia Commonwealth University's all-time leader in field goal percentage, after all.
And Carson Wentz almost — almost — beat him.
"The guys would not have let me hear the end of it if I had lost to Carson," Alie-Cox said. "I had to make it happen."
Alie-Cox gets it. Basketball is a big part of who he is. He started 103 games for a perennial NCAA Tournament team. Teammates still say they can dunk on him (Alie-Cox, who averaged nearly two blocked shots per game at VCU, doesn't think they can). Every time he catches a touchdown, whoever's doing play-by-play for the TV broadcast will inevitably mention that he's a former basketball player.
But four years removed from playing his last basketball game, Alie-Cox has embraced a new identity.
"People ask me what do you do, I play football," Alie-Cox said. "I consider myself a football player now."
Alie-Cox hadn't played football since ninth grade when he arrived in Indianapolis with the Colts as a raw, undrafted free agent in 2017. He always liked the sport, but he didn't quite understand what it would take to make it in the NFL.
"When I got here, the special teams wasn't even on my mind," Alie-Cox said. "That was the last thing I was thinking about. I was just thinking about going to score touchdowns. That didn't happen for a while."
More than anything, though, Alie-Cox realized he had to re-discover his passion for football. That was the path to upward mobility, from practice squad grunt work to a role on special teams to a role on offense to, finally, scoring touchdowns.
"It was harder to find that passion for it because I was behind on that learning curve," Alie-Cox said. "I had to learn everything all over again, and here, you're learning it at the highest level."
Alie-Cox added: "I was playing not to mess up at that point in my career."
But Alie-Cox stuck with it and chipped away at that steep learning curve. He found his basketball background to be helpful not only with high-pointing 50/50 jump balls, but with some of the footwork that goes into leveraging certain blocks expected of him.
And he worked hard at his craft, spending countless hours trying to get up to speed on a game he hadn't played in years.
Alie-Cox caught two touchdowns as a rookie in 2018, then another two in 2020. And in 2021, he's already doubled his career touchdown total.
"He's a big, friendly target," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "So when he's covered, he's not covered."
Through seven games, Alie-Cox has 13 catches on 21 targets for 177 yards with those team-leading four touchdowns. Not even halfway through the season, he's become a go-to guy for Wentz, especially near or in the end zone. And it's led to him having to re-adjust his own expectations from before the season.
"My goal this year was five (touchdowns)," Alie-Cox said. "I'm like, damn, I'm already at four."
Alie-Cox now has his sights set on eight touchdowns; he's on pace for about 10, and for the first time in his career, he's playing over 50 percent of the Colts' offensive snaps. That shows the Colts trust him not only as a big, athletic target in the pass game, but as a physical, disciplined run blocker, too.
"He's putting the whole package together," wide receiver T.Y. Hilton said.
Alie-Cox doesn't have much of a need for his backup plan these days, the one he would've turned to had his attempt at making it in football didn't last. He graduated from VCU with a Master's in criminal justice and homeland security and was ready to try to join the Secret Service, find a role in the the U.S. Department of Justice or go to law school.
"If it didn't work out, I was going to just go to work," Alie-Cox said. "I haven't thought about it in a while."
Eventually, Alie-Cox still may become a Secret Service agent. He's intrigued by the idea, but also doesn't think about life after football much these days.
And why would he? Alie-Cox leads an NFL team in touchdowns and is making plays for the Colts on a weekly basis. And all those people who remember Alie-Cox for his basketball highlight reel are starting to know him for what he does on the football field.
"A lot of people know me from my basketball career," Alie-Cox said. "I think I'm going to be tied to that as long as I keep playing football. They'll know me for football now but they'll always bring up basketball."