Connecting the dots: Finding the commonalities among Tampa Bay’s coaching staff, and with Summer Showcase players

XFL Tampa Bay Head Coach Marc Trestman has hired a bevy of coaches familiar to him. How is this cadre of coaches connected to players that tried out in the Tampa Summer Showcase?

In the football coaching profession, networking is critically important. Taking time out to introduce yourself to a colleague at a high-school coaching clinic could, years down the line, lead to a job in the college or professional ranks.

This fraternity of coaches was at play when each XFL Head Coach and General Manager was assembling his staff. It was likely difficult enough attracting experienced leaders of men to a start-up football league after the Alliance of American Football had flamed out in such spectacular fashion; then take into account trying to put together a staff of assistants after most college and NFL teams had already set theirs for the upcoming year.

In Tampa Bay, Head Coach and GM Marc Trestman drew from many of his stops to hire assistants. He took advantage of his knowledge of the Canadian Football League and shopped there, the next-best place to find assistants after Division I college and the NFL.

Below I’ve taken a deep dive into Trestman and his assistants hired thus far, to see where their paths have crossed. I’ve also attempted to cross-reference their coaching stops with names listed from the XFL Summers Showcases.

While not always the case, familiarity can be helpful when building a team from scratch. Some of the player names that appear across multiple coaching stops would be something to file away for when XFL contracts are handed out and the XFL Draft commences in October.

Head Coach: Marc Trestman: The offensive mad scientist will attempt to outwit fellow outside-the-box offensive minds like June Jones and Kevin Gilbride in the XFL. Trestman’s travels have taken him from the college ranks (University of Miami and North Carolina State) to the NFL (five offensive coordinator jobs and head coach of the Chicago Bears) to the CFL (head coach of Montreal and Toronto).

Much of his staff in Tampa Bay comes from the Great White North. His quarterbacks coach, Josh Neiswander, was a player for him when Trestman was head coach in Montreal. Running backs coach Josh Moore served that same position with Trestman in Toronto and was his assistant head coach with the Bears in 2014.

Offensive line coach Jonathan Himebauch worked under Trestman in both Montreal and Toronto. Offensive assistant Justin Poindexter and linebackers coach Mike Archer both coached with Trestman in Toronto. And offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo was an assistant for Trestman in Montreal in 2008.

Interestingly, all of Trestman’s offensive assistants in Tampa have a connection to him, while only one defensive assistant does. Clearly, he knows offense will be key in the XFL and hired those already familiar with his concepts.
One player connection that has already been made is QB Ryan Mallett, who was in Baltimore when Trestman was offensive coordinator there in 2015 and 2016. While Mallett was a backup, he had the best completion percentage of his career and best passer rating (in a year with more than 16 pass attempts) in 2015.

Trestman also crossed paths with XFL tryout players S Will Hill, S Matt Elam and WR Chuck Jacobs while in Baltimore. As head coach in Chicago, Trestman coached RB Mike Ford, FB Tony Fiammetta, LB Khaseem Greene, DT Will Sutton and WR Rashad Lawrence.

Will Trestman feature a fullback in his XFL offense? While in the NFL, he had access to Fiammetta, more of a blocker, in Chicago. In Baltimore, he had do-it-all Kyle Juszczyk. While NFL offenses are making that position extinct, Trestman has a history of utilizing it in different ways.

Moving north, in Toronto, Trestman was a part of Argonauts teams that featured LB Khalil Bass, S Marcus Ball, LB Terrance Plummer, G Brandon Washington, DE Rakim Cox, WR Dexter McCluster, and QB Greg McGhee.

Offensive Coordinator: Jamie Elizondo: Elizondo started his career as an assistant with Montreal of the CFL in 2008, soon after his playing career ended. He had a couple of short stints in college with Syracuse (WR coach) and Columbia (OC/QB coach). He was last offensive coordinator for the Ottawa Redblacks.

Tampa Bay has yet to announce a wide receivers or tight ends coach. Those positions could be filled internally, with Elizondo a candidate to coach WRs in addition to his coordinator duties. Despite coaching for three different CFL teams, Elizondo’s path has not crossed anyone else on the Tampa Bay staff besides Trestman.

His connection with Summer Showcase players is nearly as sparse: He was a coach in Ottawa when LB Khalil Bass was on the roster in 2017, and when LB Quentin Gause played for them in 2018.

Defensive Coordinator: Jerry Glanville: The man in black returns to pro football in the states for the first time since he was head coach of the Atlanta Falcons in 1993 (not counting a stint for the Hartford Colonials in the UFL in 2011, where the team folded before he could coach a game).

Glanville began his coaching sojourn at Western Kentucky in 1967. Most recently, he had returned to the game after nine years away, becoming the defensive coordinator of the CFL Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2018.  Glanville was able to pluck DBs coach William Fields from that same Hamilton staff, bringing him along to Tampa. Special teams coach Frank Gansz Jr. was also in Hamilton and is now a part of Trestman’s Tampa staff.

LB Khalil Bass is a name that pops up quite a bit throughout these coaching stops, and while he never played for Glanville, he interestingly attended Portland State after Glanville was head coach there from 2007-2009. Small school…small world.

WR Rashad Lawrence, LB Lucas Wacha, and FB Nikita Whitlock were on Hamilton’s roster in 2018 while Glanville coached there. Because Glanville is on the defensive side, his connection to Wacha, a linebacker, may matter a little more for this exercise than the offensive players. But I thought it was worth noting.

Special Teams Coordinator: Frank Gansz Jr.: Junior followed his father into coaching special teams, as Frank Gansz Sr. worked in the NFL for almost 25 years. Gansz Jr. attended The Citadel and coached at the US Military Academy beginning in 1990. He was special teams coach for the NY/NJ Knights of the World League in 1992-1993, which was the precursor to NFL Europe.

He coached special teams in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders (1998-2000), Kansas City Chiefs (2001-2006), and Baltimore Ravens (2006-2008). He’s also coached elsewhere at the college level with the University of Houston, UCLA, and SMU. Gansz Jr. coached tight ends for five years in Houston, which makes it possible that he could coach tight ends in Tampa in addition to his special teams duties.

Like most others on the staff, Gansz Jr. also coached in the CFL, but only one year, with Hamilton in 2018, where he coached with Fields and Glanville. In addition to those players listed with Glanville in Hamilton, Gansz Jr. coached at SMU while DE Taylor Reed was there, and at UCLA while S Rahim Moore was a player. Perhaps the most useful connection is that he was special teams coach at UCLA while Jeff Locke played. His work with Locke got the punter drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Quarterbacks Coach: Josh Neiswander: Neiswander has the thinnest coaching CV of anyone on Marc Trestman’s first XFL staff. He played quarterback at Angelo State college, then later with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL from 2011-2013. I couldn’t find any record of collegiate or professional coaching experience for Neiswander after his playing career ended.

Neiswander played for Trestman when Trestman was head coach of Montreal in 2011 and while Jonathan Himebauch was the offensive line coach there.

Running Backs Coach: Josh Moore: Another veteran of the CFL coaching ranks, Moore comes to Tampa having last been Toronto’s RBs coach for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. He has worn many hats in the coaching game, from college recruiting coordinator, running backs coach, and tight ends coach, to high-school offensive coordinator, to pro assistant to the head coach and RBs coach.

Moore crossed paths with offensive assistant Justin Poindexter and linebackers coach Mike Archer while in Toronto. He was RBs coach for Trestman there, following him from the Chicago Bears, where Moore was the assistant to the head coach in 2014. Moore has many of the players in common with those listed under Trestman from their time together.

Offensive Line Coach: Jonathan Himebauch: This has to be a little strange for Himebauch, who played in the only season of the original XFL back in 2001 for the champion Los Angeles Xtreme. Since then, coach Himebauch has bounced from college to the CFL and earlier this year, to the AAF.

The one constant has been his job as offensive line coach, aside from a high-school stop-over in 2005 as head coach. He coached under Trestman in both Montreal and Toronto, assisting him along with the others previously mentioned.

Himebauch saw a lot of familiar faces at the Summer Showcases. He coached at Wake Forest when FB Nikita Whitlock played there in 2012-2013. While in Edmonton in 2014, he was joined by RB Kendial Lawrence, S Dexter McCoil, and S Robert Sands. Add in the players who also played for Trestman, et. al. in Toronto in ’17-18.

Then you have the AAF alum, many of whom were invited to the Showcases. It’s a long list of San Antonio Commanders, the team for which Himebauch coached. In the interest of brevity, I’ll note specifically the offensive linemen, since those would be whom Himebauch would be most familiar: C Dillon DeBoer, C Brian Folkerts, OT Fred Lauina, OT Andrew McDonald, G Cyril Richardson, and OT Maea Teuhema.

Offensive Assistant: Justin Poindexter: A graduate of Howard University, Poindexter began coaching in 2010 at Gonzaga High-School. He moved on to become a tight ends coach and assistant offensive line coach, a recruiting assistant, a game charter for the Cleveland Browns, and a defensive quality control coach. He too could have a hand in coaching the tight ends. Poindexter was set to become Toronto’s running backs coach this year before being hired by Trestman for the XFL.

While at Howard, QB Greg McGhee played there. They’d meet up again when Poindexter was in Toronto with the Argonauts. He coached at Southern University where DE Aaron Tiller, DT Trae Tiller, WR Willie Quinn, RB Lenard Tillery, and TE Dillon Beard played. Poindexter was a recruiting assistant at Northwestern while DT Jordan Thompson and WR Flynn Nagle plied their craft.

In Cleveland with the Browns, he was familiar with CB Trey Caldwell, WR Rannell Hall, RB Raijon Neal, S Rahim Moore, LB Scooby Wright, TE Connor Hamlett, WR Matt Hazel, CB Najee Murray, and WR Kasen Williams over the course of two seasons.

Defensive Line Coach: Lawrence Hill: Not much is known about Hill. He was a high-school head coach at one time, as well as West Texas A&M defensive line coach. We may have to wait for the Tampa Bay media guide to come out to learn more.

Linebackers Coach: Michael Archer: Archer has spent a lot of his coaching career in the college game. He was a linebackers coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers for seven years from 1996-2002, when the Steelers had some phenomenal talent at that position like Levon Kirkland, Chad Brown, Joey Porter, Mike Vrabel, and Jason Gildon.
Archer was brought to the CFL in 2017 to be a part of Marc Trestman’s staff in Toronto. He was promoted to defensive coordinator from linebackers coach for the 2018 season. He has spent a number of years as a defensive coordinator in college, as well as assistant head coach and safeties coach.

In addition to the usual suspects he coached, along with others aforementioned in Toronto, he crossed paths with WR Tobias Palmer while at North Carolina State in 2011 and 2012. He was at Virginia when DT David Dean was there in 2014 and 2015.

Defensive Backs Coach: William Fields: Fields not only coached in the CFL, but he played there as well. He started as a pro scout for the B.C. Lions, then moved into the high-school and college ranks. He came back to B.C. in 2014, then jumped to Montreal, Hamilton, and finally Edmonton. At most of those stops, he was an assistant DBs coach, whereas in Tampa he’ll be leading the room.

In 2015, he was coaching DBs as well as defensive quality control in B.C. when RB Timothy Flanders and QB Greg McGhee were on the roster. When he moved to Montreal in 2016, he worked with CB Khalid Wooten. In Hamilton in 2017, Fields encountered S Will Hill, DE Ryan Mueller, DT Jason Neill, FB Nikita Whitlock, and Wooten again. Whitlock, Wooten, WR Rashad Lawrence, and LB Lucas Wacha were part of the Hamilton roster in 2018 with Fields as assistant DBs/special teams coach.

Strength & Conditioning Coach: Darren Krein: No member of Marc Trestman’s Tampa coaching staff has more NFL coaching experience than Krein. He has been an assistant or head strength and conditioning coach in the league since 1997, save for the year 2000. During that time, he coached RB Marcus Thigpen, LB Josh Kaddu, OT Andrew McDonald and RB Jonas Gray in Miami in 2012, then Thigpen and Kaddu there again in 2013.

Sticking with Miami, WR Matt Hazel and WR L’Damian Washington were roster members in 2014, with Hazel and LB Jeff Luc a part of the team in 2015. Krein moved to Indianapolis where he coached DE Kristjan Sokoli, LB Antonio Morrison, and LB Deiontrez Mount in 2016, then RB Matt Jones, Morrison, RB Christine Michael, and G Isaiah Williams in 2017.

Just because coaches are familiar with players doesn’t mean they’re an automatic fit. But we’ve seen that in building a staff, Marc Trestman prefers an air of familiarity, mixed with new faces. So if names like QB Greg McGhee, FB Nikita Whitlock, LB Khalil Bass, WR Rashad Lawrence or others who pop up frequently in this column end up in Tampa’s camp this fall, you’ll know why – I’ve connected the dots for you.

The XFL’s second chance to make a new first impression

The Las Vegas Outlaws was a great brand with the perfect combination of colors, logo and uniforms. The league would do just fine if they can recapture the perfection of that brand.

As the old saying goes, You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. The return of the XFL is flying against the face of that. The revival of this brand is one of the most improbable and unlikely in all of sports and entertainment.

A reboot is common, but it’s usually reserved for properties that have had some sort of initial success. While the original XFL made an impact and changed the way all football is broadcast and viewed today, there’s no denying that the original XFL was a flop. The branding played a part in it,  as did the quality of football,  which was rushed and poorly executed. It wasn’t just the substance of the league that failed,  the overall presentation of what it stood for, did as well.

The original XFL was NBC’s direct broadcasting replacement for the NFL, and the league bragged as if it was going to be better than the now 100 year old NFL.  In hindsight, that expectation level was absurd for what was a first year startup league. The league was thrust into weekly prime-time network television and was asked to come close to duplicating  what the NFL and other established sports leagues were already doing. The hype and marketing did just that for one week, but the quality of the product wasn’t ready for prime-time initially and it died on arrival for most of the viewing public.

In most cases with reboots, a once popular entity is updated for the modern era. The brand name of these reboots have name value, so producers think they can recapture old magic with these brands or maybe even make it better. The idea is bringing back classics for a whole new generation that may not be familiar with them, and take an old trusted formula and make it new again. It doesn’t always work out,  and here’s hoping that nearly perfect classics like Back to The Future, Scarface, Goodfellas or The Godfather never ever get the reboot treatment.

The XFL is the opposite of the traditional reboot. It may still borrow the method of innovation like the original XFL 1.0 had, but the idea is to get it right this time. Despite the football world and it’s players needing a second pro football league, outside of diehard football fans who love this concept, no one was clamoring for the return of the XFL. The 2020 version is supposed to be the complete opposite of the original. It’s supposed to be structured and presented in a more traditional and updated fashion, with the sole emphasis being football.

As we edge closer to the reveal of the XFL’s eight team identities. This is where the new impression of the league itself is shaped. The XFL has made all the right moves thus far in methodically building up their league brick by brick. The football hires have been a reflection of that. The front office hires for the league and the individual teams have been outstanding. The process of testing game rules and broadcast technologies with ABC, Fox and ESPN has been a measured one.   The latest phase of testing with The Spring League in California was just completed.  The XFL’s eight talent showcases were executed and organized so well by the league’s football operations department. The XFL  has full insurance and coverage for all of it’s players and a health advisory committee headed by famed Doctor Julian Bailes.  So far so good, but the team identities hold the key to helping change the league’s perception.

Look no further than social media for what people think of the XFL brand when it comes to team identities. If any pro or college sports team debuts a new look, the go to criticism of any new concept is that it “looks like an XFL team.” When the New York Jets debuted their new uniforms this past spring, this was one of the knocks against their new look. The XFL hasn’t had any new team names or uniforms since 2001. That’s 18 years ago, and yet any perceived failure at branding is still associated to them. If a uniform or logo is panned as being ugly or second rate, it is instantly pegged as an XFL concept.

There is great pressure on the current XFL brain trust to get the team branding right. Their eight team identities will still face criticism even if there are no offensive team names. Team branding is very subjective, so there will always be people opposed to, or who are critical of a team name, but the XFL will face harsher criticism than most due to it’s history. It’s all because of the negative reputation and perception attached to their original league.

The original XFL team names and logos flew against the face of traditional sports teams. It was a group mostly of anti-establishment brands that were purposely positioned as being against political correctness. Some people may expect the current XFL to adopt their original branding and go the “Meth Gators” route. With that being stated, while most of XFL 1.0’s brands were certainly out there, the Las Vegas Outlaws was a great brand with the perfect combination of colors, logo and uniforms. The league would do just fine if they can recapture the perfection of that brand. Lost in the fact that “He Hate Me” was written on the back of the jersey, was how good those jerseys actually looked.

Secondary football leagues have always been about redemption, but it’s usually been stories for the players mostly.  The overwhelming story arc of how no one else gave these players a chance, these leagues are usually about former high round draft picks trying to redeem themselves and resurrect their careers.  It’s also about the forgotten college football all stars who never got a chance to shine in the pros.   The stories then extend to the overlooked virtual unknowns who want to prove themselves worthy of being pro-football players.

Secondary pro-football leagues from the past, like the USFL, XFL and NFL Europe, have been a proving ground for the likes of Sam Mills, Tommy Maddox, Kurt Warner and many others. XFL 2020 will have those stories and then some, but what makes the current XFL different is that the league itself is sharing with the players the same exact story of redemption. The proving ground is not just for the players but for the league itself.

Outside of the actual founder and funder of the XFL in Vince McMahon, and a few assistant coaches who actually played in the original league, the 2020 version of the XFL has a whole new set of executives and coaches attached to the league. Even with a brand new cast, the league is still fighting the battles that the original XFL lost. The biggest battle is in how the overall league is viewed, treated and perceived. It’s a brand new league with a brand new vision trying to erase the mistakes of the old league’s branding.

The process leading into February 8th 2020, when the league premieres on ABC and Fox, will play a big part in changing the overall outlook of the league. Despite being a startup league, the XFL will have a short leash with the public. They have to make the right moves now in order to present a quality product right out the gate. These next six months will dictate how well the league’s second first impression goes. The league is giving itself a second chance.  There won’t be a third.

Energetic former WSU player takes on the XFL

Former Washington State University cornerback Marcellus Pippins.

With the XFL starting up again, hundreds of former collegiate athletes from across the country are coming together. The Seattle XFL team, coached by former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn, recently held a summer showcase at the Seattle Memorial Stadium. This was one of eight showcases held around the country.

As music played and drills raged on former Washington State University (WSU) and Canadian Football League (CFL) cornerback Marcellus Pippins stood on the sidelines dancing. According to Pippins’ Twitter, “Having fun is the best part.”

Pippins’ personality has not gone unnoticed by former teammates. “As long as we’ve been teammates, I’ve never seen him get tired,” former WSU and CFL teammate Paris Taylor said. “Every TV time out you can catch him dancing on the field.” “[Pippins] needs his own TV show or YouTube channel.”  Both Taylor and another former teammate, Robert Lewis, used “energetic” as a way to describe Pippins. Lewis’ favorite memory of Pippins is when he came out of a store and saw the spirited football player dancing in front of it.

Early years Pippins attended El Cerrito Highschool just outside of Richmond, California. While Pippins said he is proud to be from Richmond, it was not always to the best area to live in. In his early years, Pippins said he stayed away from parties to focus on school and sports. “Richmond, California is the city of pride and prejudice,” Pippins said. “That’s exactly how I carry myself in life and my decisions.”

Pippins scored ten touchdowns and seven interceptions as a junior in high school. During his senior year, Pippins was a three-star recruit and ranked 75th in the country in his position. In both his junior and senior year, he received All-East Bay first-team honors.

While Derik Calhoun, Pippins’ high school coach said physical talents came second to none, he was more impressed with the other facets of his game. “The best part about coaching him was simple: he was a coachable kid that understood the game from a mental perspective,” Calhoun said.

Understanding the game from a mental perspective was something that Pippins said he learned from coach Calhoun. Calhoun instilled in Pippins the popular saying, “The game is 80% mental, 20% physical.”

For awhile, Pippins said he didn’t know what that saying meant. “But playing at the highest level and living life,” Pippins said. “It all goes hand in hand.”

Collegiate and professional career

After his high school career, Pippins played football at WSU. According to wsucougars.com, Pippins was a four-year letter winner playing in 42 games over his four years and starting in 31 of them. Pippins recorded 104 tackles (6.5 for loss), one sack, five picks, 14 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and three recoveries. Pippins said his most memorable collegiate play came on his brother’s birthday when he picked off NFL pro-bowler Jared Goff.

In the spring of 2018, Pippins graduated from WSU with a humanities degree and immediately moved into the CFL. Pippins was on the practice squad for the Montreal Alouettes in 2018 and record two interceptions and a touchdown in the 2019 preseason before getting cut in week two.

Off the field

Off the field, just about everyone in his family described Pippins as absurdly competitive. His brothers, grandma and mother all talk about how Pippins is always competitive at family game nights, especially when “Uno” is involved.

“Don’t play any board games with [Pippins], you will no longer like him,” Trache Darwin, Pippins’ sister said.

XFL future

Pippins said he’s currently working on sharpening his technique and staying in shape for the XFL draft in October. Players for XFL teams will be selected from a pool of players who are signed by the league. Even though Pippins attended the Seattle XFL showcase, this has no relevance on where he could end up.

“The main thing that excited me about the XFL is I can have my folks watch me in the states,” said Pippins. “Not everyone can get a passport and travel to Canada.” There is an XFL franchise located in Los Angeles which is less than ten hours from his home town in California. “I want to be noticed and be given a fair chance to excel and show people that I am as good as I seem on film,” Pippins said.

Pippins does have some goals while in the XFL. Pippins said he wants to become a “no brainer shutdown nickel/corner” for a team and be an all-star as well.

“I want to shoutout my family, Coug Nation and my dog Saint,” Pippins said. “I could not have gotten here without them.”

Names you may know, names you should know from the XFL Summer Showcases (pt. 2)

Former former Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook. (Credit: Spartan Playbook)

Part two of my two-part series looking at some familiar names and not-so-familiar names from the eight XFL Summer Showcase events:

Los Angeles

Names you may know:

S Rahim Moore: A highly decorated defensive back from UCLA, Moore led the country in interceptions as a sophomore. He declared for the NFL Draft following his junior season and was selected by the Denver Broncos in the second round. Moore intercepted eight passes in four seasons in Denver before playing what ended up being his final NFL games in Houston in 2015. He made a comeback with the AAF this spring.

DT Will Sutton: Sutton made a major jump his senior season at Arizona, from 5.5 tackles for loss as a junior to 23.5. His sacks also skyrocketed from 2.5 to 13. The Chicago Bears took a shot on that promise by drafting Sutton in the third round in 2014. He couldn’t live up to his senior numbers, however. Sutton too found refuge in the AAF in 2019.

TE Fred Davis: At USC, Davis won the John Mackey Award in 2007 as the top tight end in the nation. He was a second-round pick of Washington the next spring. A six-year contributor in the nation’s capital, Davis caught 162 passes for 13 touchdowns over that time. In 2014, Davis was suspended for about a year from the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He never regained his footing thereafter.

P Jeff Locke: Only about two or three punters are drafted each year. In 2013, Locke was one of them. Minnesota spent a fifth-round pick on the kid from UCLA. He punted for the Vikings for four years, struggling the last two after his first two years were solid. He was the third punter Detroit used in 2017, filling in for five games while the other two were injured. After being cut by the San Francisco 49ers after training camp last year, he latched on with Arizona of the AAF.

K Nick Novak: In terms of NFL games played, Novak has the second-most experience amongst those invited to the Showcases. He has played for five teams over an 11-year career in the league, in between stints in NFL Europe and with the United Football League (both now defunct). His career field goal percentage stands at a respectable 82%. Returning from a back injury, he kicked for Birmingham of the AAF in 2019.

Names you should know:

S Stavros Katsantonis: Turns out, they play football in Canadian colleges, too. Katsantonis is one of the few players from the Great White North to try out for the XFL at these Showcases. He isn’t eligible for the CFL draft until 2020 due to a drug violation attributed to an over-the-counter supplement. Katsantonis, who also punted in college, was a three-time All-Canadian player (equivalent to an All-American in the states). The CFL’s loss could be the XFL’s gain.

LB Jerimiah Spicer: XFL’s Twitter account helped to tell Spicer’s story better than I could: https://twitter.com/xfl2020/status/1151234057000443905

WR John Santiago: The XFL’s Summer Showcases were a place for coaches and personnel to uncover hidden gems from smaller colleges. Santiago may be just that. He attended the University of North Dakota, where he was listed as a running back. But he was more than that, catching passes, returning punts and kicks during his four years as a Fighting Hawk. He left the school with 6,562 all-purpose yards and 32 touchdowns. Santiago attended the NFLPA Bowl this year prior to the NFL Draft.

RB Ja’Quan Gardner: To get noticed at the small school level, you must be dominant. At Humboldt State, Gardner dominated Division II. He led that division in rushing as a sophomore with 2,266 yards and 26 touchdowns. As a sophomore and senior, he was the GNAC Offensive Player of the Year. As a pro, Gardner proceeded to rush for 100+ yards in two of the first three weeks of the AAF season.

TE Johnny Stanton: For most players, the position they are listed at tells all. For Stanton, that may not be the case. While at UNLV, Stanton played both quarterback and linebacker, also blocking a kick on special teams. He arrived at UNLV after stints at Nebraska and Saddleback College in California. When he signed with the Minnesota Vikings after the 2018 NFL Draft, his position was simply listed as “athlete.”

Seattle

Names you may know:

LB Hau’oli Kikaha: Hau’oli means “happiness, joy” in Hawaii. As a linebacker, Kikaha more likely prefers to bring fear and pain. Kikaha was a bit of a defensive end/linebacker ‘tweener coming out of Washington, landing in New Orleans in round two of the 2015 NFL Draft. A torn ACL and ankle injury were among the maladies Kikaha had to fight through in his three seasons on the Saints. He’ll look to restart his career in the XFL after being waived by New Orleans at final cuts last September.

RB Bishop Sankey: Sankey scored 20 rushing touchdowns as a senior at Washington, garnering second-team All-American honors. He blazed a 4.49 40 at the NFL Combine, which led the Tennessee Titans to take him in the second round of the draft. He ended up playing in just 29 games over two seasons, though he showed the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He averaged almost 4.0 yards per carry in the AAF.

RB Terron Ward: The quintessential backup running back for three seasons in Atlanta, Ward held on to third-string duties behind Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman from 2015-2017. He had to prove his value on special teams to keep that roster spot. Ward played for the AAF in 2019. A jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none, Ward entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State.

LB Korey Toomer: Special teams was Toomer’s ticket to a roster spot during his five-year NFL career. Voted Team MVP his senior season at Idaho, Toomer’s entry to the NFL was via the draft as a fifth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2012. He has made 124 defensive tackles in his career and has returned an interception for a touchdown. Toomer was signed by the B.C. Lions of the CFL last month.

DT Alameda Ta’amu: Another Washington alum, Ta’amu is a mountain of a man at 6’3” and 348 lbs. It’s no wonder the Pittsburgh Steelers saw him as a NT fit in their vaunted 3-4 defense, selecting him in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Ta’amu was waived during his rookie season, a rarity for a fourth rounder. He played 14 of his 21 career games in Arizona in 2013, as they ran a defensive system similar to the Steelers. He is one of many Spring League alums invited to the Showcases.

Names you should know:

LB Peyton Pelluer: An ultra-productive sixth-year senior in 2018, Pelluer set a Washington State record for most games played and left the school fifth on its all-time list in tackles. He fills run gaps well and plays downhill. He made the Pac-12 All-Academic team five times. Thought to be too small (6’0”) and too slow (a 4.83 40 time) for the NFL, he did receive a minicamp tryout with the Cleveland Browns after the draft.

RB Dominck Bragalone: Bragalone’s ascent began in high-school where he holds Pennsylvania’s single-season high-school rushing record and comes in second nationally in that category. He attended Lehigh University and continued his rushing tear, finishing his career as the school’s all-time leading rusher. He had a down year as a senior, which hurt his stock, and his size (5’10’, 233 lbs) has led to whispers about him becoming a fullback.

RB Taku Lee: Just as the original XFL had a player from Japan, LB Shin Yamada, so too could the rebooted version. While in college, Lee was the leading rusher in Japan two years in a row. Lee was a part of the Obic Seagulls of the X-League of professional football in Japan before coming to America to participate in The Spring League this year.

LS Tanner Carew: Thought by many to be the top long-snapper in the 2018 NFL Draft (with some mocks predicting him to be selected, a rarity for the position), Carew instead was signed by the Seattle Seahawks as a free-agent. He showed the ability to cover as well as snap while at Oregon, making six special-teams tackles. Carew was invited to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl before the draft, where top seniors show their wares for NFL scouts.

DE Chase DeMoor: Central Washington’s DeMoor shined at the Division II level, earning an invite to the FCS National Bowl game, an all-star game for smaller colleges. He did so well there he was “promoted” to the subsequent FBS All America game. Perhaps DeMoor’s greatest claim to fame is his ability to block field goals; he led all levels of college football with six blocked kicks as a senior in 2018.

Tampa Bay

Names you may know:

QB Ryan Mallett: There was talk of Ryan Mallett being a first-round draft choice in 2011. Instead, he fell to the New England Patriots in round three. He had terrific TD:INT ratios his junior and senior years at Arkansas, and his completion percentage jumped almost ten points as a senior. Mallett was second-string to Tom Brady for three years in New England, until a trade to the Houston Texans in 2014. He had a strong showing against Cleveland before tearing his pec muscle, then losing the starting QB battle to Brian Hoyer in 2015. He managed to carve out a seven-year career as a top backup.

TE Kellen Davis: No one at the XFL Summer Showcases had more NFL experience than Davis, who played in 125 games across nine seasons. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Chicago Bears in 2008. Davis was the starting tight end in Chicago for two years, 2011 and 2012, but never caught more than 19 passes in a season. That may have been more attributable to Chicago’s offensive design at the time than Davis’s skills. He brings a huge body to the position, at 6’7” and 265 lbs.

S Matt Elam: After a college career in which he garnered first-team All-American accolades in 2012, Elam was selected by the Baltimore Ravens with the final pick of the first round in 2013. Elam struggled with ineffectiveness and injury in his three years in Baltimore. Heading into free agency in 2017, Elam was arrested for possession of marijuana, likely scaring away any potential suitors. His career continued with the CFL in 2018.

WR Stephen Hill: Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense makes it difficult to project offensive players from that school to the NFL. But it’s not difficult to project 6’5”, 209 lbs, and a 4.36 40 time to the NFL. Those numbers belonged to Hill, a second-round pick of the New York Jets in 2012. Hill didn’t have eye-catching college stats because of the Yellowjackets’ offensive system. Unfortunately for Hill, that lack of productivity continued into the NFL. He only lasted two seasons with the Jets, catching a combined 45 passes. He was recently cut by the Atlanta Legends prior to the AAF season.

FB Tony Fiammetta: Fiammetta is attempting a football comeback after last having played in the NFL in 2014. Best known for his time in Carolina, Fiammetta played for four teams in six seasons, seeing action in 51 games. He only touched the ball 23 total times, so he was a block-first guy. With the expectation of wide-open offenses permeating the XFL, one wonders how many teams will even carry a fullback.

Names you should know:

S Jonathan Crawford: While Crawford left Indiana eighth in program history in interceptions, perhaps the most telling statistic is that he started every game he played in beginning when he was a true freshman. A team captain as a senior, Crawford will miss some tackles and get his feet stuck in the ground in coverage, but the accolades speak for themselves: The three-time All-Big Ten Honorable Mention selection signed with the Tennessee Titans after this year’s draft.

DT Nikita Whitlock: It’s one thing to play multiple positions in college; it’s another to do that in the NFL. But that’s just what kept Whitlock around for three years. A defensive tackle in college, he was immediately switched to fullback upon signing as an undrafted free agent with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014. As a member of the New York Giants practice squad later that year, he practiced at both fullback and linebacker. The next season, he won the fullback job from a veteran based in part on his special teams play. The XFL may favor smaller, quicker athletes on the D-Line given the expected pace of play, which should favor Whitlock’s chances.

G Terronne Prescod: The online draftniks couldn’t come to a consensus on Prescod: Some had him as a future NFL starter, others as a fringe player at best. He was a favorite of Pro Football Focus, garnering their highest grade among all offensive lineman during his senior season of 2018. They named him a first-team All-American. Prescod’s athletic limitations led to him going undrafted.

T Bruno Reagan: More and more, scouts are looking for offensive linemen with a wrestling background. Reagan fits that bill. As a high-school junior, he was Tennessee state heavyweight champion with a record of 57-0. He also has a judo background. At Vanderbilt, Reagan manned both right guard and center positions and closed his career starting 40 straight games and helping the Commodores to their best offensive season since the 1970s.

LB Quincy Redmon: As if rising from the ranks of Division II football to earn a contract with the Miami Dolphins wasn’t overcoming a big enough obstacle, for Quincy Redmon, that was the easy part. The hard part? Redmon’s family was homeless at times when he was growing up, staying wherever they could find a roof. Then, at nine years old, he was partially paralyzed from delivering a hit on the football field. Redmon was never expected to play sports again and was in a wheelchair for six months. Football isn’t all that intimidating when you’ve lived a life like that.

St. Louis

Names you may know:

RB Akeem Hunt: Hunt never cracked the 1,000-yard rushing barrier in a season with Purdue, but that didn’t stop the New York Giants from wanting to get a look at him as an undrafted free-agent. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve and after a stop with the Baltimore Ravens, found a home with the Houston Texans. He was on-and-off their practice squad for two years, eventually moving on to Kansas City in 2017. There, he played in 15 games and averaged 24.4 yards per kick return. In the AAF, he was part of a running back by committee with the Orlando Apollos.

TE Clay Harbor: Athleticism was Harbor’s ticket to the NFL, where he was drafted in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010. After being waived in 2012, he was claimed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2014, he caught a career-high 24 passes. In 98 career NFL games, he has 114 catches and eight touchdowns. He was last in camp with the New Orleans Saints in 2017, eventually being placed on injured reserve.

RB Trent Richardson: Although he may go down as one of the biggest NFL Draft busts in history, that wasn’t the scuttlebutt after Richardson’s rookie season. The Cleveland Browns took him number three overall in the 2012 draft, and he amassed 950 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns his first year. He was part of a surprising trade to the Indianapolis Colts during his second season and never got untracked there as his yards per carry average continued to dip. Richardson just wants to play football, which has led him to the CFL and AAF in his post-NFL career.

QB Connor Cook: Cook holds the distinction of being the first quarterback to make his first career start in a playoff game during the Super Bowl era. It did not go well for Cook, who went 18-of-45 passing with a touchdown and three interceptions for the Oakland Raiders against the Houston Texans after being selected in the fourth round in the NFL Draft prior to that 2016 season. A two-time Big Ten Championship Game MVP while at Michigan State, Cook kicked around with a few more teams before being cut by the Detroit Lions in June.

QB Zach Mettenberger: Former LSU Tiger Mettenberger entered the NFL as a sixth-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2014. With the Titans a mess at quarterback that year, Mettenberger ended up starting six games, completing nearly 60% of his passes with eight TDs and seven interceptions. The Titans drafted Marcus Mariota in the first round in 2015, but once again Mettenberger was pressed into duty that year, starting another four games. He saw time in The Spring League and with the Memphis Express of the AAF after a year with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017.

Names you should know:

DT Francis Kallon: In 2017, SteelersDepot.com called Kallon the “Steelers’ most intriguing 2017 UDFA.” While he did indeed go undrafted, Kallon’s athleticism at Georgia Tech’s pro day got him noticed. He ran a 4.97 40 at 6’5” and 295 lbs. Longtime NFL scout Gil Brandt suggested Kallon could have a home at offensive tackle. So why did he go undrafted? After moving to the United States from England, Kallon didn’t even take up football until late in high-school and didn’t crack the Georgia Tech starting lineup until late in his senior year.

WR Kavontae Turpin: A controversial figure at TCU, Turpin was kicked off the Horned Frogs’ team in October of last year due to an arrest for assault. This was the second such charge against him. In a workout for scouts off-campus, Turpin measured in at just 5’7”, but ran a 4.31 40. At TCU, he made hay as a returner, bring back two kickoffs and four punts for touchdowns. His legal situation bears monitoring, as does the XFL’s policy on these types of charges.

TE Carter Kirk: Kirk departed Southwest Minnesota State holding the team’s career record for field-goal percentage (59.2) and rebounds (887). Yes, those are basketball stats because Kirk was a four-year member of the Mustangs basketball team. He only played one year of football there, at tight end, after playing quarterback in high school. He was good enough to start 10 of 11 games in college, nabbing 27 passes for 339 yards. He parlayed that year of work into a minicamp tryout with the Seattle Seahawks.

LB Jordan Harold: The former University of Missouri defensive lineman made headlines in May when he camped outside Carolina’s Bank of America stadium, holding a sign that read “will pass rush for hot wings.” Harold, whose football excursion has taken him as far away as Mexico to play the sport, was just repeating a strategy that had worked once for him already: He got a spot on the Missouri squad by approaching the team’s defensive line coach outside their complex. Coming in from Northwest Missouri State, Harold was eventually put on scholarship and earned a job in the starting lineup.

LB Shaan Washington: Washington gave the AAF its first viral moment, making a monster hit on QB Mike Bercovici in the league’s inaugural game. It wasn’t all-bark, no-bite either, as Washington came up with three sacks in the first two weeks of the season. Washington started for three years on the Texas A&M Aggies and as a senior, was fourth in the SEC in tackles. Aggressive but slow, he fits best in a 3-4 defensive alignment.

XFL bolsters its ranks with new staff hires including former AAF Director of Player Personnel

The XFL bolstered its ranks with new staff hires, including a league-wide director of player administration, heads of communications in their Los Angeles, Tampa Bay and Houston franchises, and a head of partnerships in LA.

Russ Giglio has joined as Director of Player Administration. Russ spent over eleven years at the NFL working in the Player Personnel and Football Operations departments, and most recently was the Director of Player Personnel at the former AAF. In his role at the XFL, he will be charged with overseeing Player Personnel policies and procedures, including the draft and waiver wire, and report to Doug Whaley, Senior Vice-President of Football Operations.

Lisa Milner Goldberg joins the league as head of communications for XFL Los Angeles, after eleven years working at Swanson Communications, a PR agency with a focus on boxing, individual athletes and live events. Allen Barrett will head up communications for XFL Tampa Bay after 11 years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he most recently served as Senior Communications Manager.  Charles Hampton comes to Houston as head of communications for XFL Houston, where he spent eight years with the Houston Texans before heading up the athletic communications team at Grand Canyon University for the past four years.

Jim Baral also joins XFL Los Angeles as the Senior Director of Partnerships, after consulting for the Los Angeles Chargers for the past year and a half. A native of Los Angeles, Jim led media sales and marketing for Univision Networks and Cox Communications on the west coast for over 20 years.

Names you may know, names you should know from the XFL Summer Showcases (pt. 1)

With all eight Summer Showcases now complete, the next step for the XFL from a player personnel standpoint is to begin signing players to league contracts. Commissioner Oliver Luck has stated plans to sign 200-300 players from the Showcases to be made available in the XFL Draft, scheduled for some time in October.Over the course of the eight Showcases, around 900 players worked out for XFL coaches and league staff. In scouring the rosters, there are some players who may be familiar to even the most casual football fan. There are some players who are known to the diehards. And there are some players who fall into the “obscure” category.

That, however, doesn’t mean they don’t have a story to tell or aren’t of value. Over the next two columns, I’ll break down some of the bigger names attending the Showcases, as well as point you in the direction of some of the lesser-known players who may have a shot at a contract.

Some have slipped through the professional football cracks for one reason or another, and some just have intriguing backgrounds worth mentioning. Below, I’ll spotlight players from the first four Showcases. Later, I’ll write about players from the last four.

And if you’re interested in learning more about those who worked out seeking an XFL contract, check out my Google Doc on the players known to have attended the Showcases, as well as details about their professional careers. You won’t find this breakdown anywhere else, and I update it as new information comes in. If you’d like to contribute by adding a name who attended or other information, DM me on Twitter @gregmparks or e-mail me at g_man9784@yahoo.com.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1R8DSec0yBdhuqrCH1u3JU2JzoeHD9Te8a9YCBgsNw-8/edit#gid=249102793

Dallas

Names you may know:

RB Lance Dunbar: A six-year NFL vet, Dunbar spent five years with the Dallas Cowboys as a backup running back and special teamer. Among those he spelled in the Dallas backfield? DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott. Not a bad duo to study under.

RB Christine Michael: Michael won a Super Bowl ring with the Seattle Seahawks at the conclusion of the 2013 NFL season. A second-round draft pick of Seattle in 2013, Michael led the team in rushing yards and touchdowns in 2016, but was released in the offseason when he was caught up in a numbers game at the position.

FB Aaron Ripkowski: A fan favorite in his three seasons in Green Bay, Ripkowski played in 47 out of a possible 48 regular season games and proved a devastating lead blocker. He showed an ability to run the ball when pressed into action as well, averaging 4.2 yards per carry during his tenure with the Pack.

QB Landry Jones: Jones was a four-star recruit coming out of high-school and landed at the prestigious University of Oklahoma. He guided the team to a Fiesta Bowl win as a sophomore. A fourth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jones sat behind the durable Ben Roethlisberger for five seasons. Despite his college pedigree, he has thrown just 169 NFL passes.

DE Kony Ealy: Carolina selected Ealy out of Missouri in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Durable for four seasons, he was never able to consistently crack the starting lineup for the Panthers, and his statistics failed to grow. In the final year of his rookie deal, he was traded to New England before bouncing around with a few other teams before finishing last season in Oakland.

Names you should know:

CB Brian Peavy: The Iowa State product was a favorite of Pro Football Focus, where he came in at 104 overall in their 2019 NFL Draft Big Board. The site credited him with the fourth-ranked overall grade in the class among cornerbacks, and the 12th ranked coverage grade. A criminal mischief arrest in 2017 and a height of just 5’9” in an era of big corners worked against him. He was signed, then released, by Arizona.

WR Jalen Rowell: In 2017, Rowell (nee Robinette) put up eye-catching numbers at 6’3” and 220 pounds for Air Force and was set to be a day three pick in the NFL Draft. Then, the service academies changed their policy on athletes turning pro, leading to Rowell having to serve two more years. Which brings us to 2019 and the XFL.

DE Moubarak Djeri: Djeri made his way to America after playing in the German Football League. He was signed by the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 after playing for the Cologne Crocodiles. He was released before the season began. Still just 23, Djeri is raw but has the measurables to be a force.

K Tyler Rausa: Size is a factor at every position in the NFL, even kicker. Rausa connected on 79% of his field goals in two years as a starting placekicker at Boise State, but his 5’9” stature works against him. He participated in the National Arena League in 2018, where he led the league in field goal percentage.

DE Marcell Frazier: Playing college at Missouri, Frazier notched 15.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as a senior, following up a junior campaign that saw him register 7.0 sacks. Most impressive about his senior numbers? He did that playing most of the year with a torn quad. Not the most gifted athletically and having taken a circuitous route to get to Missouri, Frazier can obviously be an impact player.

Houston

Names you may know:

WR Robert Meachem: For six seasons, Meachem was a part of the New Orleans Saints’ prolific offense. Over that time, he amassed 164 receptions and averaged over 16 yards per catch. In 2012, he left for big money in San Diego, but never panned out there as a free agent acquisition. He returned to the Saints before heading north to the CFL for 2018.

S Will Hill: Despite a talented career at the University of Florida, Hill’s brand was so toxic that not only wasn’t he drafted in 2011, he wasn’t even signed after the draft. It wasn’t until a year later that the New York Giants took a flier on him. Hill played for the Giants and Ravens over four seasons, but personal issues continued to plague him at the pro level – among them, an arrest and NFL suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

TE Larry Donnell: Donnell flew under the radar for two years as a pro until he broke out on a nationally televised Thursday Night Football game, grabbing three touchdowns en route to a Giants victory over Washington. At 6’5” and 269 pounds, Donnell is not a game-breaker, but he can move the chains. Across four seasons in New York, he caught 110 passes.

LB Taiwan Jones: This is a name you may know, it’s just not the PERSON you may know. Yes, there are TWO Taiwan Jones who have recently appeared in the NFL. Jones the running back is still active and on the roster of the Houston Texans. Jones the linebacker has only played a handful of games in the league with the New York Jets.

QB Brandon Silvers: Not known for his work in the NFL but rather in the Alliance of American Football (AAF), Silvers had a tryout with the Saints out of Troy in 2018 but didn’t land on their camp roster. He worked his way up from third string with the Memphis Express of the AAF to help the team win a key overtime game against Birmingham. He was briefly on the New York Jets’ roster this past offseason.

Names you should know:

FB J.D. Moore: Fullbacks need love too. Although a position that has become an endangered species in football, Moore has positional flexibility having played some tight end in college. He blocked for first-round NFL Draft Pick Leonard Fournette at LSU. His NFL career was cut short by injury last year in Kansas City.

DT Chris Nelson: A rookie out of Texas, Nelson was a team captain and played at the post-season East-West Shrine Game this January. A bit undersized at defensive tackle, Nelson showed an ability to push the pocket. He started all 14 games as a senior and had 39 tackles with 5.5 for a loss. He was signed then released by the Pittsburgh Steelers after this year’s draft.

QB Devante Kincade: The two-time SWAC Offensive Player of the Year at Grambling State, Kincade has signed contracts in the NAL and CFL since going undrafted in 2018. He is just as adept on the run as he is throwing the ball. Kincade has XFL connections: Then-SMU and current Houston XFL head coach June Jones offered the four-star recruit out of high school; Kincade signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL, coached at the time by Jones.

CB Bradley Sylve: Although he wasn’t a starter on Alabama’s star-studded defense, Sylve was hoping to land a free-agent contract after the 2016 draft when he began his Pro Day workout. That all changed when Sylve tore his Achilles tendon while working in front of scouts. A year later, he signed with the Bills after running a 4.43 40 yard-dash.

TE Zeke Pike: Pike’s story is best told in this Sports Illustrated write-up from 2016: https://www.si.com/college-football/2016/12/26/zeke-pike-auburn-tigers-louisville-cardinals

New York

Names you may know:

WR Hakeem Nicks: A first-round pick of the Giants out of North Carolina, Nicks hasn’t played a regular-season pro football game since 2015. He was a six-year starter with the Giants, twice going over the 1,000-yard receiving mark in a season. He was a part of the Super Bowl-winning squad of 2011. Nicks is a true comeback story.

DT Jerel Worthy: Worthy has bounced around the NFL after being selected in the second-round of the 2012 draft by the Packers. Many draft analysts saw him as a borderline first-round talent. He was never able to put it all together though, compiling just 34 tackles and 2.5 sacks across 40 NFL games.

RB Branden Oliver: Undrafted out of the University of Buffalo, Oliver surprisingly led the Chargers in rushing during his rookie season of 2014. Oliver became the caddy for Melvin Gordon when the Wisconsin product was selected in the first round by San Diego in 2015. Oliver sustained a torn Achilles that kept him on the sidelines in 2016 and wasn’t as productive when he returned.

TE Evan Rodriguez: Another TE/FB hybrid, Rodriguez entered the NFL as a fourth-round pick out of Temple by the Chicago Bears. He was arrested twice while in college, and two more times while in the NFL. Though he was last on an NFL team in 2014, Rodriguez was a part of the San Antonio Commanders of the AAF this past spring.

RB Andre Williams: At Boston College, Williams was Doak Walker Award Winner (nation’s best running back) and a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, both in 2013. He was eventually drafted in the fourth round by the New York Giants in 2014. He was the team’s leading rusher that year, but only with 3.3 yards per carry. His carries dipped the next three years between the Giants and Chargers.

Names you should know:

LB Cardell Rawlings: Coming from Division II Wingate University, Rawlings was under-the-radar for much of the draft community in 2019. At a prototypical linebacker size of 6’2” and 240 pounds, Rawlings’ best asset is his ability to be a pass rush nuisance. As a senior, he had 18 sacks and 23 tackles for loss, and was a DII All-American. Oh by the way? He runs a 4.5 40.

QB Alek Torgersen: The Ivy League doesn’t produce a lot of pro talent, but Penn’s Torgersen would love to follow the path of former Ivy Leaguer Ryan Fitzpatrick. Torgersen set school records for passing touchdowns and total offense. He obviously has the intelligence you’d like at the position and is more mobile than his 6’3”, 230 lb size would bely.

RB Tarean Folston: Folston comes from a football family: His dad, James, was a second-round pick of the Raiders in 1994 and his brother has spent time in the league as well. Tarean was a four-star recruit out of high school, landing at Notre Dame. A torn ACL cut his junior season short and when he returned as a senior, he was behind Josh Adams on the depth chart. Folston tried out for Washington before playing in the AAF.

G Brian Dolce: Dolce went from walk-on at the University of Albany to earning a camp tryout with the Bills after the 2019 draft. Even more impressive is he did that while frequently changing positions. He came to Albany as a defensive lineman, moved to tight end, then back to defensive line. That’s after playing linebacker in high school. His position listed at the XFL Showcase? Offensive guard.

S Delvon Randall: A leader on the Temple defense, Randall is in the record books as having the third-most interceptions all-time in the American Athletic Conference. Randall signed with the Eagles following the 2019 draft after starting for three years on the Owls. Most impressively, Randall earned a single-digit uniform number while in college, given yearly to the nine toughest players on the Owl team.

Washington

Names you may know:

LB Terence Garvin: “Rugged” Terence Garvin carved out a nice career as a special teamer in the NFL, playing a combined 75 games for Pittsburgh, Washington, Seattle, and San Francisco. His most famous play may have been a hit that broke the jaw of Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber. Garvin wreaked havoc in the AAF this year, intercepting two passes and returning one for a touchdown in the first Orlando Apollos game of the season.

WR Jacoby Ford: Blazing a 4.28 40 yard-dash time at the NFL Combine led to the speed-happy Raiders drafting Ford in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. He immediately made an impact as a kickoff returner, taking three to the house as a rookie. He was also effective on jet sweeps and reverses. Ford couldn’t parlay his work into a second contract in Oakland and found himself in the CFL for two years.

RB Bernard Pierce: Pierce averaged an eye-popping 4.9 yards per carry in his rookie season in Baltimore, working behind starter Ray Rice. His performance dropped in 2013, averaging two full yards per carry less than his first year. Nevertheless, he had an opportunity to start in 2014 but was released after the season following a DUI arrest. He bounced around a bit before playing in the American Flag Football League in 2018.

CB Dexter McDougle: McDougle entered the NFL as a third-round draft choice of the New York Jets in 2014. He tore his ACL in training camp, sidelining him for the season as a rookie. He was relegated mostly to special teams in 2015. A trade to the Eagles in 2017 saw his career follow the same path. After being cut mid-season by the Eagles in 2018, McDougle latched on with the AAF.

TE Khari Lee: You probably didn’t select Khari Lee for your fantasy football team: In 34 career NFL games, he has just two receptions. A block-first tight end, he was signed out of Bowie State by the Houston Texans following the 2015 NFL Draft. He showed in college that he can catch the ball, coming down with 34 receptions during his senior season.

Names you should know:

DE Adham Talaat: Talaat played his college ball at Gallaudet, a school for the deaf in Washington, D.C. He was a dominating player in college, a captain and finalist for the award for Most Outstanding Player in Division III in 2013. He earned many “firsts” when it came to accolades bestowed upon a Gallaudet player. Talaat had tryouts with the Chiefs and Seahawks in 2014 before getting into coaching at the collegiate level.

WR Vinny Papale: You may not have heard of Vinny Papale, but you may have heard of his father, Vince. It was Vince’s story that inspired the movie “Invincible” starring Mark Wahlberg. At Delaware, Vinny played receiver and returned punts. Injuries mounted, as his freshman and sophomore campaigns were cut short due to a broken leg, and ACL & MCL tears respectively. He tried out for the Eagles, his father’s old team, following the 2019 NFL Draft.

G Toree Boyd: An ironman on the offensive line for Howard University, Boyd started 46 straight games in his career, a team record. Born in Nassau in the Bahamas, Boyd was a three-year team captain for the Bison. Post-draft in 2017, Boyd signed on with the Atlanta Falcons.

G Kyle Chung: Virginia Tech’s Chung, son of former NFL offensive lineman Eugene Chung, signed a free-agent deal with the Chicago Bears after going undrafted this year. He was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA due to medical hardships, specifically injuries relating to his shoulder. Chung played mostly left guard, center, and right tackle during his career, showing valuable versatility.

TE Cam Serigne: To some a surprising draft snub in 2018, Serigne latched on with the Carolina Panthers following the draft. All he did in college was set the ACC record for career receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns for a tight end. Even as a redshirt freshman, he led Wake Forest in receiving. Not big enough or fast enough for the NFL, Serigne’s story is all too familiar for many trying out for the XFL.

Imagining a reimagined game of football

The XFL’s goal is to make a great game even greater.  An ambitious mindset for sure, but everything about the league’s mission thus far has been just that.

The average amount of actual action in an entire NFL game has been calculated to be anywhere from eleven to fifteen minutes. This is what the viewer at home, and in the stadium, experiences over a three-hour span of watching an NFL game. Fifteen minutes or less of actual football.  A sixty-minute game that only produces a quarter of actual gameplay. More than three quarters of an actual NFL game clock is spent on camera shots, commentary and players huddling and regrouping before the next play from scrimmage. The average three-hours plus of an NFL game is dedicated to advertisements, replays, multiple breaks in the action, and then more advertisements. Fifteen minutes, at best, of actual football plays, and nearly three-hours of everything else. In defense of the NFL, after all these studies came out, in recent years they have to attempted reduce all the dead spots in their telecasts.

People will often point to advertisements eating up the three-hours plus of a football game. The NFL has taken steps, in recent years, to increase their in-game advertising through picture-in-picture technology, with quicker commercial breaks and on-field advertising.  The real issue is that it’s not just about how long a game or broadcast takes. It’s about what happens during the actual game. It’s about the amount of in-game action, and the lack of it, or the delays between plays.  It’s not just about the fans at home watching. It’s about the people watching live at the games. Oftentimes, the home viewer has a better experience than the fan seated in a stadium. TV Ratings have been up for the NFL, but attendance is down; simply because people would rather watch the games at home. Part of that is a financial decision, but a large part of it has to do with being able to better enjoy the game at home. The breaks in action and momentum throughout the course of a football game are way more noticeable when experiencing a game live in person, than they are from the comfort of your own home. The breaks in momentum also effect the players and the play on the field.

The XFL’s mantra of “less stall and more ball” is less about fitting a football game into a three-hour window, and more about increasing the importance of the action on the field.  It’s about minimizing the dead play time and meaningless plays, and maximizing the meaningful plays.  So, the number of plays and the overall time of the telecast is important, but not the main focus. It’s only part of the overall picture.  Actions speak louder than words, and for these words to matter they need to be put into action.  How exactly does the XFL plan on doing that?  The experimenting of this is still on-going, and will continue later this month with the league’s broadcast partners, ABC, Fox and ESPN, when the league partners again with the Spring League to continue their research, development, and testing of game rules and in-game technologies.

One way of speeding up and increasing the action is to shorten the play clock. Rather than the current 40-second play clock used in the NFL, the XFL is working towards having a 25-second play clock.  With a 40-second clock, two offensive plays can potentially take up to a minute and twenty seconds of game clock. The 25-second play clock will, in theory, add an extra play for every minute played on the field.  However, it doesn’t stop there. The XFL’s goal is to quickly run another play once a play has ended. The league is planning to speed up the process by having a designated official, whose sole job will be to line up the football immediately after a play has ended. The quicker the ball is spotted, the quicker the next play happens. In theory, a shorter play clock with a system in place to set and reset for the next play will help speed things up, but there is a reliance on human execution.  This is where modern technology comes into play to help boost the operation further.

The XFL is planning on using an “all-11” audio communication system, for both offense and defense. In modern day football, a play call is relayed from a coach to his quarterback, who then relays the play to his teammates before the next play can be run. Some NFL and college teams that implement a faster style of offense will often use signals and even drawings to speed up the process.  With an all-11 audio system,  every offensive player will immediately know the next play call. Once again, time is being saved before the next play happens. This will extend to the defense as well. What’s unknown at this point is if there will be a cut off time in the audio transmission to players.  In the NFL, the audio is cut off before the team is at the line of scrimmage. Will the XFL decide to keep the audio transmission going right up until the snap? It would be the equivalent of Tom Brady hearing Josh McDaniels instruct him at the line of scrimmage, while Brady is scanning the defense. Imagine if that audio exchange was also available to the audience. During NFL telecasts, Tony Romo has expertly surmised where the play should, and could go, right before the snap. Imagine a scenario where he was actually telling Jared Goff, where to throw the ball based on the defensive look.  An “all-11” audio system not only helps players know the play and line up quicker, but it can also help them execute their designed plays better. Using this type of technology will almost make the need for a huddle unnecessary.

Technology can also be a useful tool in other areas. Some of the dead spots in football telecasts are unavoidable, like injuries for example.  The one area where games do get dragged down, and the action gets slowed down to a halt, is with officiating delays and replays. The XFL plans on implementing a modified officiating protocol. They are looking to speed up the process in which penalties are called, and in how quickly replays and challenges are resolved. One of the nine game officials is going to be in the booth, with access to all angles and replays. This official’s job will not only to be to correct a call, but to communicate it quickly to the head referee on the field.

Simplifying the rules will also help cut down on penalties and game stoppages. The XFL’s proposed “multiple forward passes behind the line of scrimmage” rule, not only adds an extra layer to the offensive strategy, but it makes the referee’s job easier when it comes to determining where the ball is. The XFL’s proposed one foot in bounds catch rule also helps officials as well. So much time is spent on stoppages and replays determining what is, and what isn’t a catch. One foot in-bounds as a catch eliminates the referee conferences after a catch and the potential challenges that usually follow these types of plays.

Meaningful versus meaningless plays. Since taking multiple safety measures, the NFL has seen a big increase in touch-backs and fair catches over the last few seasons. Kickoff and punt returns, to a lesser extent have been reduced significantly. One of the bigger dead spots and lulls in action in the NFL, comes after a team scores. A break in the action is then followed by the next play, being yet another break in the action. No time is taken off the clock during this operation, but usually nothing happens. This really hurts the live in-game experience and the momentum and flow of the game, not to mention eliminating the excitement that was attached to kickoffs in the past. The now defunct AAF eliminated the kickoff altogether, and an offensive play followed a score. However, what that effectively did was to guarantee that no offensive team would have the ability to start a drive in good field position. Every team started their drives at the 25-yard line. Eliminating the kickoff also eliminated the excitement and shift in momentum that comes from big plays on kick returns.

The XFL is bringing the kickoff and kick return back, keeping safety in mind with a new alignment that reduces collisions but brings back the exciting aspect of a big return. This is one of the original “reimagine” concepts that the XFL has been tinkering with and testing for quite some time. This concept was heavily aided by the league’s health advisory committee members. One of the most recent proposals was for touch-backs to result in teams starting on offense at their own 35-yard line. An incentive to not kick the ball deep into the end zone and to ensure that a return happens. The punt return will also be different, but familiar to football fans. A 5-yard halo will be in place that allows the returner to set up and return the football. This is borrowed from the Canadian game. One of the more exciting plays in the CFL is the punt return, and CFL special teams coaches have a field day designing plays with reverses and all kinds of gadget plays stemming from the point of the return. Another reimagining that has safety and the big play in mind at the same time.

There is no play that goes against the competitive nature of pro sports, and is more meaningless, than the kneel-down in football.  The NHL has its own form of clock killing during penalties, and it comes when a team is trying to run out the clock when they are facing the disadvantage of having one less player on the ice. However, this form of action requires skill and risk. It’s the boxing equivalent of being up against the ropes and trying to avoid being knocked out until the round ends. The kneel-down in football has no such skill involved. It’s always been a way of retreating and copping out. An extremely boring end to first halves and the end of games. Although things are still being ironed out, the XFL plans on reducing or eliminating the kneel down altogether by enforcing that teams have to attempt to gain yardage by moving forward. To further this rule, the clock automatically stops within two minutes. This forces teams to have to try and get first downs rather than attempt a series of quarterback sneaks and then punt. You are essentially waving the white flag and giving the ball back to your opponent inside of 15-20 seconds if you don’t try to maintain possession. To keep the ball, you have to keep moving it forward. The competitive action continues, and it doesn’t come to a screeching halt.  One of the sequences that almost always gets booed by a home team crowd is when a team decides to take a knee before a half, simply because they don’t have enough time or timeouts and don’t want to risk trying to advance the football.  Increasing the amount of meaningful plays and action actually extends to a few other different aspects as well. The first ties into the kneel-down and the final two minutes of each half, and what is being loosely referred to as the “comeback period”. The game clock is supposed to stop after every play within two minutes. This has been, and is still being tested by the XFL. If implemented, it will no doubt increase the amount of plays run in the game’s most crucial moments, but this type of “reimagining” may dramatically change the whole time honored aspect of game and clock management as we know it.

In the original and in the current XFL, the extra point kick is no more. This is another untimed play that is virtually meaningless. In recent years, it has been moved back to create drama but it’s still one of the more automatic and boring plays in football.  Replacing the extra-point kicks in the XFL are three tiered conversions: a one-point conversion from the 2-yard line, a two-point conversion from the 5-yard line, and a three-point conversion from the 10-yard line. After a team scores a touchdown, they will have one of these three options to choose from. What they choose will be based on strategy, and if they are ahead or trailing in the game. Teams that attempt a three-point conversion will be in desperation mode. Converting one play from the ten-yard line will be very difficult to pull off.  The premise of this concept is to create more scoring related plays that add drama to a game, and create the possibility of a late comeback.

Then there’s the XFL’s proposed overtime concept. This has safety and fairness in mind.  The safety aspect is to avoid having players play multiple series and quarters. Doing so increases the likelihood of injuries.  The fairness aspect is allowing both teams the opportunity to win the game on offense and defense, with no coin flips or kickers determining the outcome. A tie is broken when both teams get the opportunity to score in what has been loosely labeled as a “shootout”.  As presently proposed, both teams’ offenses get five scoring opportunities at the opposing teams five-yard line. Although similar “shootout” concepts exist in hockey and soccer, those shootouts come down to a version of their games that is not played during regulation. The XFL’s shootout is traditional 11-on-11, offense versus defense. No field goal kicks, “Oklahoma drills,” or 40-yard dashes. The concept is trying to resolve a tie quickly and fairly with the players health and safety in mind. Trying to accomplish all of this and still make it an exciting sequence for football fans to watch. The XFL is still working out the kinks and rules on this concept. The truth is that overtime games are very rare, especially in an 8-team league. The original XFL had 43 regular season and playoff games. Only one of those games resulted in overtime. The AAF played 8-weeks of play, resulting in 32 overall games. Only one of those games ended up in overtime. So, the likelihood is that the XFL could only have one or two games that would result in this overtime concept seeing the light of day.

The XFL is trying to walk a fine line of being different enough to get noticed, but still appear to be familiar. The idea is appealing to college and NFL fans, by trying to resemble the game of football that those groups love, while also trying to improve upon aspects of football that can be upgraded for the year 2020 and beyond, all the while using advanced technology to be the driving force behind all of it.  Change always produces resistance.  There was a time when people didn’t want 2-point conversions.  Many rule and presentation changes over the years were first met with skepticism and scrutiny.  While the XFL will be adopting ninety-percent of NFL rules, it’s the other ten-percent that could create hesitation for those who may consider following the league.

A lot of these concepts seem very exciting. When imagining the possibilities of what’s being reimagined, can the league pull it off? The attempt to increase action and plays and to make the game more exciting and evolved than it already is. The XFL’s goal is to make a great game even greater.  An ambitious mindset for sure, but everything about the league’s mission thus far has been just that.

It All Begins…Again

For Greg Parks, it all began in 2001. Now, as a newly minted XFLBoard team reporter, Greg points out, it all begins… again.

It seemed too good to be true.

There they were, the architects of the renegade 2001 football league, Vince McMahon and Dick Ebersol, sitting down together to have dinner at the end of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary on the XFL.

“Do you ever have thoughts about trying again?” Ebersols asks McMahon. Without hesitation, McMahon replies, “Yes, I do.”

For XFL diehards like myself, it felt like a tease. I mean, there was NO WAY McMahon, now a billionaire in charge of what has become the WWE media empire, would entertain restarting a football league that bombed more than a decade prior.

Then a funny thing happened: A lot of people watched the XFL 30 for 30. And a lot of people liked it. All of a sudden, like seemingly everything else from that time period, there was nostalgia for the XFL.

That quickly dissipated. Time passed. Then, nine months after the 30 for 30 first aired, a Tweet from reporter Brad Shepard began to make the rounds:

At the time, Shepard was not well-known in either pro wrestling or sports reporting circles, so there was much skepticism. Soon after, the Alpha Entertainment trademark was discovered. At the time, many suspected what was later confirmed: Alpha would be the parent company of the revived XFL.

The news of the XFL’s rebirth was later confirmed, and I can’t tell you how weird it was watching Vince McMahon’s news conference where he officially brought back his most public failure.

The reason for starting his league back up, reportedly to utilize the trademarks of the XFL rather than sell them to Charlie Ebersol to use, was not exactly a way to start on the right foot. Neither was announcing the relaunch with frustratingly few details, doing so only to get out ahead of the Ebersol-led Alliance of American Football’s christening. Since those initial missteps, though, the XFL has made almost all the right moves.

We are now less than eight months away from kickoff. McMahon has largely stayed in the background, allowing CEO and Commissioner Oliver Luck to be the public face of the rebrand. Some of the only mentions of McMahon would come as thanks from head coaches upon their hiring.

We don’t know what the team nicknames will be. We don’t know who the players will be. And we don’t know what the championship game will be called. We do know that this XFL is being built completely different from the original, which gives it a much greater chance for success.

In 2001, I was a sophomore in high school in rural Western New York. I remember posting on the original XFLBoard.com. Today, I’m a middle school teacher in Southwest Florida. Now, I’m writing for XFLBoard.com. I feel the same excitement for the XFL today as I did all those years ago.

With each step, the XFL feels more and more real. After the Summer Showcases wrap up, players will be signed to league contracts, and team names, logos, and colors will be revealed. Then it’ll be the XFL Draft, training camps, and…oh my. Then it’ll be February.

When it all begins…again.

XFL Names Dallas Native Grady Raskin President of City’s New Team

Grady Raskin, most recently Vice President of Corporate Partnerships for the NHL Dallas Stars, has been named President of the XFL team in his native Dallas.

Stamford, Conn., June 27, 2019 – The XFL today announced that Grady Raskin, most recently Vice President of Corporate Partnerships for the NHL Dallas Stars, has been named President of the XFL team in his native Dallas.

The Dallas XFL team will take the field in February 2020 for its inaugural season and play its home games at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Bob Stoops is the team’s head coach and general manager.

Raskin will be responsible for the team’s fan engagement and business operations, including ticket sales, corporate partnerships, marketing, content, communications, community relations, and game day experience.

“Vince McMahon, Oliver Luck and I are thrilled to welcome Grady to the XFL as our eighth and final team president this year,” said Jeffrey Pollack, XFL President and Chief Operating Officer. “As a Dallas native who has called the Metroplex home his entire life, Grady understands the heart and soul of local sports fans and he’s deeply connected in the business community. We know that, working alongside Coach Stoops, he will help us connect with the community and build something special.”

“The XFL has attracted an impressive group of coaches and sports executives to its ranks, and I’d like to thank Vince McMahon and Jeffrey Pollack for the opportunity to lead the team in my hometown and work with the legendary Bob Stoops,” said Raskin. “Knowing how passionate football fans in North Texas are, it’s humbling and extremely energizing to take on this new challenge. We are eager to begin the process of building a first-class organization devoted to creating fan-first experiences and strong partnerships throughout the community.”

Raskin began his 22-year sports career as an intern for MLB’s Texas Rangers in 1996 and soon worked his way up to Director of Advertising Sales, selling corporate partnerships for three sports entities owned by Tom Hicks (Texas Rangers, Dallas Stars, and Mesquite Rodeo), as well as the newly-constructed American Airlines Center. He was elevated to Vice President of Business Development for the Rangers and Stars in 2007, then, upon the sale of the teams in 2009, moved to the Rangers exclusively. Raskin rejoined the Stars in 2012, serving as Vice President of Corporate Partnerships, managing all partnership sales and activations. Over his career, he has experienced two Western Conference Championships and a Stanley Cup Championship with the Stars, and two American League Pennants with the Rangers.

A cum laude graduate of George Washington University with a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in sports management, Raskin was a three-year letterman on the university’s Division I baseball team. He lives in Dallas with his wife Ally and their two children.

The XFL Registers Trademarks for its Seattle Franchise

Today, commentators on Reddit and in the XFLBoard forums were discussing multiple trademark applications that were recently made by “Alpha Entertainment,” the XFL’s parent company.

The trademark registrations may indicate potential names for the Seattle franchise:

  • Seattle Wild
  • Seattle Force
  • Seattle Fury
  • Seattle Dragons
  • Seattle Surge

There is speculation that the registration of five names may lead to some sort of vote or contest for the fans to choose which name is preferred.  There is other speculation that the league has registered five names just to cloak their real team name choice in the run-up to a big reveal. Either way, we won’t know the Seattle team name until the league makes the official announcement.

Trademark attorney Josh Gerben has weighed in on his opinion for the multiple trademark filings:

Back in February, this web site asked its followers to choose team names for all eight XFL franchises. The names the fans chose were:

Seattle (2225  total votes)

  1. Wolfpack – 9.5%
  2. Sasquatches – 8.8%
  3. Lumberjacks – 8.5%
  4. Emeralds – 8.4%
  5. Sea Monsters – 7.3%
  6. Tridents – 6.4%
  7. Steelheads – 6.2%
  8. Stingrays – 5.8%
  9. Orcas – 4.9%
  10. Scream – 4.9%
  11. Timberwolves – 4.8%
  12. Knights – 3.8%
  13. Kings – 3.3%
  14. Lynx – 3.2%
  15. Silencers – 2.9%
  16. Stallions – 2.9%
  17. Needle – 2.9%
  18. Sonics – 0.4% (write-in)
  19. Grunge – 0.2% (write-in)
  20. Supersonics – 0.2% (write-in)
  21. Kraken – 0.2% (write-in)
  22. Reign – 0.2% (write-in)
  23. Storm – 0.2% (write-in)
  24. Dragons – 0.1% (write-in)
  25. Rain – 0.1% (write-in)
  26. Seals – 0.1% (write-in)
  27. Thunder – 0.1% (write-in)