|COURTESY ALABAMA STATE UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS|
MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- He had led the Southwestern Athletic Conference in rushing in 2014, but there were no calls coming from National Football League general managers.
Nearly a year later, Malcolm Cyrus was working toward his bachelor's degree in criminal justice at Alabama State University, almost resigned to the fact that he would have to search for a job when he graduated in May.
"I always said I wanted to be a probation officer on the federal level," Cyrus said. "That's the main thing I was thinking about. But I was thinking about going back to school, too, and getting my master's degree. I really wanted to get a criminal justice degree because the job field is so open. I could always get a job."
Cyrus had a secret that even his mother didn't know, however. On weekends, when he could locate a tryout within driving distance, he would work out for Canadian Football League scouts in hopes of landing an offer to play professional football.
"Actually, I told my mother this year was going to be my last year trying out," he said. "I graduate in May. I'll get my degree and go to work. But I didn't give up on it. She thought I gave up on it, but I didn't. I really don't talk about the things I've got going on. A lot of folks didn't know I went to this tryout or the other tryouts. I just do that on my own."
The workout Cyrus attended on Jan. 23 at Faulkner University's John Mark Stallings Field for the Saskatchewan Roughriders wasn't even on his schedule. He had circled the Jan. 30 workout in Atlanta with Winnepeg.
But his performance was better than any he had before, exceeding the workout he had for professional scouts on Alabama State's "Pro Day" in the spring of 2015.
"There were a lot of 'oohs' and 'ahs' when I was working out," Cyrus said. "I did better on my vertical (jump) and my 40 (yard dash time). I did better on everything. I did everything extremely well."
When they broke into smaller groups for one-on-one work – pitting the elusive Cyrus on receiving routes and short running bursts versus linebackers, he did even better.
"I had people falling all over the place," Cyrus said. "The next morning, when I woke up, I had a text message. I want to say it was less than seven hours and they wanted to offer me a contract. I guess I did pretty good. I wasn't expecting to get a call the next day. That shocked me."
Cyrus worked out a two-year deal to play for the Roughriders in 2016-17, more than 15 months after he hung up his cleats for the last time at Alabama State, completing a remarkable story for the Autaugaville native who will soon become the first person from his high school to ever play sports at the professional level.
Cyrus had set a national record for touchdowns on punt returns during a successful career at Autaugaville High, but struggled to adjust to college football as a freshman and played behind Cleveland Browns tailback Isaiah Crowell as a sophomore and junior.
As a senior, he led the SWAC with 1,662 rushing yards to earn co-offensive player of the year honors and was known throughout the conference for his durability but at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, no one making decisions at the NFL level wanted to draft him.
"I didn't get a tryout with any NFL teams," he said. "I thought I should have gotten a lot of them, rookie mini-camps or something. I don't know what it was. I wasn't getting a lot of feedback from my agent."
He spent 2015 in the classroom, trying to finish up the requirements for his degree but still harboring dreams of playing professional football.
"I work out at the (athletic) complex every now and then and I did a little working out on my own," Cyrus said. "I always stay in shape. I didn't work out as hard as I used to work out, but I still worked out, just in case something did happen."
And while he had an agent, Cyrus continued to do everything on his own, from working out to lining up tryouts to ironing out the details of his first professional contract.
"I did most of that on my own," he said. "It was stuff I set up or people referred to me. The workout with Saskatchewan, I found out three or four days before. I just went and tried out."
He tried out for Edmonton in the fall, "but I didn't get a call from them," he said. He worked out for another CFL team in December. Still no luck. But his perseverance was finally rewarded a month later and now Cyrus will be preparing for the Roughriders' mini-camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., on April 9-12 for a sport that differs in some aspects from the National Football League.
"You get a running start toward the line of scrimmage," Cyrus said, when asked what he knew about Canadian Football League rules. "Besides that, I'll learn it. It's not hard to learn it."
It will be the first of several obstacles he's eager to overcome. For a guy from a small rural community, it's an ideal fit to play in Regina, Saskatchewan, the second smallest market in professional sports behind Green Bay. If he can only find it on a map.
"If you were to drive it, I want to say it's about 29, 30 hours," Cyrus said. "I'm not driving it. It's a long way."
COURTESY ALABAMA STATE UNIVERSITY SPORTS INFORMATION