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Colts’ Mo Alie-Cox leaving basketball to return to ‘first love’

Mo Alie-Cox #12 of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams is defended by Jock Landale #34 of the St. Mary's Gaels during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena on March 16, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – At least the Indianapolis Colts’ next power forward-turned-tight end won’t require an introductory course in how to dress for the part.

Unlike Erik Swoope, Mo Alie-Cox can draw on a football past as he makes the transition from physical force with the Virginia Commonwealth basketball team back to what he calls his “first love.’’

The 6-7, 250-pound Alie-Cox considered offers from Tampa Bay, San Diego, Philadelphia, the New York Jets and Seattle before opting for the Colts.

He spent time with coach Chuck Pagano, whose persona reminded him of former VCU coach Shaka Smart, and huddled with offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who informed him the Colts envision Alie-Cox as a receiving tight end “just catching a lot of passes.’’

Alie-Cox also shared lunch with quarterback Andrew Luck and returning tight ends Jack Doyle and Swoope.

“They were just real cool guys, easy to get along with,’’ Alie-Cox said Friday in a conference call.

The presence and input from Swoope undoubtedly had an impact on Alie-Cox’s decision.

In May 2014, Swoope was the fish out of water. He was a power forward at the University of Miami who hadn’t played competitive football at any level but decided to give the NFL a shot. After two years on the Colts’ practice squad, Swoope looked the part of pro tight end last season by catching 15 passes for 297 yards and one touchdown.

Swoope shared his humble NFL beginnings with Alie-Cox.

“He was just talking about how before he got here he had never put on a pad a day in his life,’’ he said. “He didn’t even know how to put on football pads. But he said once he got here, they just welcomed him with open arms and were willing to help him with whatever he needed.

“And he told me they’d do the same thing for me and coming here would be a smooth transition.’’

Now it’s Alie-Cox’s turn, although his learning curve won’t be nearly as steep.

“I played (football) from second grade up until the end of my freshman year,’’ he said.

After his parents’ divorce, Alie-Cox eventually enrolled at Middleburg (Va.) Academy. The private school, he explained, had an enrollment of approximately 200 and no football program.

“I had to play basketball,’’ he said.

At VCU, Alie-Cox was a steady low-post force. As a senior, he averaged 9.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.

But as his collegiate basketball career unfolded, a yearn to return to football lurked below the surface. It seemed to intensify during his sophomore season when he met Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, a friend with one of VCU’s assistant coaches.

“If you watched any of our games, all they talk about is me potentially going to the NFL and playing tight end or defensive end or football in general,’’ Alie-Cox said. “Our coaches knew that conversation was out there, so when it came up with (Witten), we just had a conversation. It may have sparked my interest a little bit, but at the time I wasn’t thinking too far to the NFL because I still had plenty of basketball left.’’

While Witten never pushed the NFL possibility on Alie-Cox, he was supportive.

“He just said if I wanted to make the transition, I could definitely make it based on my intangibles alone, my hands, my arm length, my body size,’’ Alie-Cox said. “I’m a strong, physical athlete. He said it’s probably going to be tough. Tight end’s one of the tougher positions.

“But he said I could definitely make the transition if I wanted to.’’

It took Swoope two seasons of grooming before he possessed the wherewithal to contribute. How long does Alie-Cox believe it will take him?

“Hopefully I make the roster this year,’’ he said. “I know it’s going to take a long time to get adjusted to football in general. If I’m on the practice squad for a year and make the active roster next year, (I’m) just coming in here with open arms ready to work and get better every day.’’

The Colts, Alie-Cox added, are just interested in seeing him improve on a daily basis.

“For this year and beyond,’’ he said, “we just talked about getting better every day and just see where I’m at by the time the season’s here.’’