Joe Mack was watching film of a Middle Tennessee State University football game to analyse one player when another kept catching his eye.
This other player stood out so much that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM invited him to training camp.
Now, depending on the health of Brandon Stewart’s groin, defensive back Alex Suber could be starting at halfback for the Bombers in their season-opener on Friday night at Canad Inns Stadium against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Not bad for someone who is listed at 5-foot-9 but is probably closer to 5-foot-6 and who — get this — played running back until his sophomore year in college. That means he’s been a defensive back for less than four years.
“Some guys went down on defence, and we had a couple of pretty good running backs and I was the third-string guy,” Suber said over the weekend. “So coach asked me if I would go try it.”
Just like Bomber tailback Fred Reid, Suber was a star high school running back in Tampa. He racked up 1,592 yards for Thomas Jefferson High in Grade 12 despite missing three games, and he rattled off a whopping 1,947 yards and scored 19 touchdowns in Grade 11.
He was recruited to play running back at Indiana, South Florida, San Diego State, Rutgers and Ole Miss, but he settled on Middle Tennessee State. So it took some convincing, but Suber finally relented and moved to cornerback in the fall of 2006.
“It was kind of rough at first,” Suber said. “It’s hard to take an offensive guy from running the ball and going to defence. But I’m a football player.”
The 23-year-old must be a football player, because it didn’t take him long to become a starter in the secondary, earning four starts in the same season he made the switch. He finished his career with four sacks, 131/2 tackles for a loss, five interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
During his senior season last fall, he led the Blue Raiders with 12 knockdowns and 14 defended passes. He also had two quarterback hurries.
“At first I wasn’t ready to hit 200-pound guys, but I got over that and it was pretty good,” said Suber, whose older brother Allen had a cup of coffee with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004.
While his own teammates crack jokes about his height — LaVar Glover strolled past during the interview and asked, “How do you feel about being 5-foot-3?” — Suber exudes a confidence that comes from his deep-rooted religious beliefs he received from his mom, April, and his brother.
Suber has no problem with the fact that God made him shorter than every one of his Bomber teammates, but he knows he more than makes up for it in other areas.
“He’s got great feet, great cover skills, and for a small guy he’s real physical. He’ll hit you,” head coach Paul LaPolice said. “He had a very good camp. He’s somebody from Day 1 where you’re like, ‘Wow! This kid’s got really good feet.’
“You do a lot of one-on-ones in rookie camp to see who could cover, and he covered the best out of rookie camp.”
If Stewart ends up getting the start at strong-side halfback, Suber could still play a prominent role; he’s trying out to be one of the team’s kickoff returners. And if he plays in the secondary, he plans on making his mark.
“I miss touching the ball,” he said, “so I’m going to try to get my hands on it.”