Linebacker Jacob Onyechi is ready to soar from the Air Force into the XFL

Linebacker Jacob Onyechi
(AP Photo)

If the XFL is looking for intelligent, young players, with a great attitude, Jacob Onyechi should be right up their alley.

A 2017 graduate of the Air Force Academy, Jacob is likely one of only a few linebackers to hold a degree in Mechanical Engineering. So, where has he been? Just serving his country by testing weapon systems for the United States Air Force… that’s all. Oh, by the way, he still has a strong desire to play professional football. Good thing he has recently been invited to the XFL draft.

Jacob excelled as a linebacker for the Air Force team. In 2015 he started in seven games, recording 25 total tackles, including 18 unassisted, with a career-best seven tackles in the Boise State game. In  2016, his senior year, he recorded two sacks, and 40 tackles (25 unassisted plus 15 assisted).

He was primed and ready for the NFL draft, but very close to his graduation, he was told he was obligated to complete two years of military service.

“That happened,” Jacob explained. “It was kind of a crazy story. When I was getting recruited to play in the Air Force, it had been a long standing rule that before you can play professional sports, going from a service Academy, you have to serve at least two years. My junior year they actually rescinded that rule and told us that we could go and play right away.”

However, the rules changed, and the timing of the change quickly impacted Jacob’s football career.

“In my senior year, actually, the day of the drafts, I found out that we actually had to go back to the two-year commitment, and that we wouldn’t be able to play right away.”

Fortunately, a mature-minded Onyechi takes this setback in stride.

“It would have been nice to be able to pursue the dream right away. But, at the same time, I think I’ve grown a lot in these past two years. So, I don’t think that there’s really a negative to it, at least in my eyes.”

This attitude alone, should make XFL coaches stand up and take note.

This past summer, Jacob was invited to attend an XFL Summer Showcase in St. Louis. Jacob came out of that showcase with a positive feeling about the league. “I attended in St. Louis,” Jacob said. “I was actually really impressed with what they seem to be all about.

Jacob doesn’t have a real preference as to which XFL team he hopes will pick him in the draft. “Honestly. I feel like it would just be a blessing to be on any team,” Jacob explained. “Just being a part of the league in general is an honor itself.”

Being from Sugar Land, Texas, Jacob did say his Mom would be thrilled if he played in Houston. We just hope the XFL makes a mother happy, and drafts Jacob Onyechi into a team close by. We have a feeling that they won’t regret it.

You can hear more about Jacob Onyechi in our 22 September podcast.

XFL Xtra Episode 3-2019 – Future Relationships – Jacob Onyechi and Anthony Miller

We talk with Jacob Onyechi. In college, Jacob excelled as a linebacker for the Air Force team, but he missed the NFL draft due to a two-year commitment to the Air Force. Now, Jacob has completed his obligation to serve his country, he has been invited to the XFL draft. Then speak with Anthony Miller, a Texas based broadcaster who has joined XFLBoard.com as a team reporter for the Dallas Renegades. We talk about XFL player recruiting, Coach Bob Stoops, and the burgeoning relationship between the Dallas Renegades and the city of Dallas.

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The case for officiating controversy – but at what cost?

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The 2019 NFL season is only two weeks old and yet again, on-field officiating and penalties have become a major storyline for the league. In week one, there was a clock issue that cost the New Orleans Saints about 15 seconds as they were driving down the field before the half. Unlike the NFC Championship Game in January, they were able to overcome the blown call thanks to a last-second Wil Lutz 58-yard field goal.

The Saints were victimized again in week two, this time by a premature whistle. A Jared Goff fumble returned for a touchdown by Cameron Jordan was blown dead as an incomplete pass. While replay overturned the call and awarded New Orleans the ball, because the whistle blew, they would only get the ball at the spot of the recovery, and not the six points.

It’s not just the errors that are irking fans; the amount of laundry thrown during games has reached a boiling point with announcers and players as well. FOX NFL analyst and former Dallas Cowboys QB Troy Aikman in a podcast with Sports Illustrated called the amount of penalties “nauseating” and “maddening.”

Even New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, the recipient of some of the weakest roughing the passer calls in the last two decades, found Thursday night’s Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans game hard to watch because of the penalties:

If it seems like there are more penalties called early this season, it’s because there have been. ESPN’s Adam Schefter Tweeted out the numbers:

Holding penalties specifically are on the rise, and it was an offseason point of emphasis as suggested by coaches. According to an NFL.com article by Judy Battista, offensive holding penalties are up 64% through the first two weeks of the season.

That’s not to mention the can of worms opened by allowing pass interference to be a reviewable play in 2019. Previously, judgment calls, of which pass interference is considered, had been immune from review. Even though “clear and obvious visual evidence” is the bar required to overturn a pass interference call (or non-call), that bar will be different depending on the set of eyes looking at it.

This all sounds bad for the league. It has slowed down the pace of play even more. It has players and coaches frustrated. It has fans running to social media even quicker than usual to voice their disgust throughout the world. Second-guessing NFL referees has become a cottage industry. You’d think at some point, the weekly officiating watch would affect the integrity of the game, but thus far, The Shield has not been pierced.

In fact, television viewership continues to grow. Week one this year was up 5% over week one of the 2018 season. Monday Night Football in particular saw double-digit percentage increases for both opening weekend games compared to last year. (Source: https://www.thewrap.com/nfl-week-1-tv-ratings/)

This is all prologue to the XFL, which has pledged a faster pace and fewer stoppages. It has also promised inventive rule changes, some of which we may be hearing about soon. We are now at about the time where the XFL should be writing its rulebook in pen. It’s not known whether the league will release its full rules upon completion, but if so, that could happen any day. It may be the next big reveal for the league, which also has the XFL Draft approaching next month.

While common sense would tell you the XFL should be trying to avoid the pitfalls the NFL has experienced with its officiating over the last decade or so, one has to consider the benefits of the controversies the NFL has found itself embroiled in with regards to this subject.

The disputed calls and no-calls have created storylines for the league and its teams beyond the box scores and win-loss columns. It has fed the talk-radio crowd and kept those issues in the news cycle for days. The more content you give fans and analysts to discuss, the less likely they will be to move on to another subject or sport. The NFL is king, even when the emperor is naked.

If there’s one thing the XFL needs, it’s to be in the consciousness of the sports fans as much as possible when the games begin. Fans are hungry not just for acceptable levels of on-field play, but also for controversy. The league tried to manufacture that in 2001 with the feud between New York/New Jersey Hitmen head coach Rusty Tillman and NBC color analyst Jesse Ventura, but fans didn’t buy it.

With new rules expected to be in place, there may be an adjustment period for players and referees when it comes to what happens between the lines. That could bring along with it some questionable calls from the officials. It’ll also be interesting to see what type of replay review, if any, the league settles on.

The XFL may not get the benefit of the doubt that the NFL has. Despite complaints by fans of how the NFL has become over-officiated, they keep showing up at stadiums and watching on TV. Will fans look the other way if roughing-the-passer penalties in the XFL are questionable, or if a quick whistle or two negate defensive touchdowns? Or will they use that as evidence that the XFL is not a quality product and decide it’s not worth their time?

As the XFL puts the finishing touches on its rulebook, one that will have a great influence on the success of the league, you have to wonder if there’s a devil sitting on the shoulder of commissioner Oliver Luck, telling him to keep some of the rules vague enough so that the XFL too can benefit from a little bit of officiating controversy, just as the NFL has.

Shawn Oakman: Questions and Answers

In this Oct. 10, 2015, file photo, then-Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman warms up before an NCAA college football game against Kansas. (AP Photo)

Recently, in an XFLBoard.com article, Mike Mitchell wrote that Former Baylor DL Shawn Oakman was a player we would like to see in the XFL. Afterward, XFL fans heard that Oakman had, in fact, accepted an XFL draft invite. This immediately made him one of the biggest names to be been invited to play in the league.

Since XFLBoard.com and its followers are excited about the possibility of Shawn Oakman joining the XFL, Jackson Conner recently had a conversation with Oakman, to get to know him a little better, and ask about his past, present and future football career.

Shawn Oakman Q&A

Q. Who contacted you first for your XFL draft invite and when did they contact you?

A. Oliver Luck sent the invitation and it was around mid-to-late August.

Q. Had you been considering the XFL before anyone contacted you?

A. I was considering it for sure, it was definitely an option that was on the table. Any way I could get my foot back in the game I was going to take it. As you know me playing Arena, I have just been trying to keep my name relevant.

Q. What factors played into your decision to accept the XFL draft invite?

A. There were no factors really, football is football. You know, if you love the game you are going to play no matter when or where. It was not something I had to think about. If you give me an opportunity to play football especially a paying opportunity to play I am going to take it. It’s a career path, it’s a career decision.

Q. What does a normal day look like for you as you train for the XFL?

A. 6 am on the field drills, running cardio, weights at 10, lunch and dinner every day. Same thing every day, kind of like that Kaepernick commercial. Really just repetition, being the same person every day, doing the same thing every day. Just staying ready for my opportunity, whatever opportunity that may be XFL, NFL, CFL, etc.

Q. How have your experiences with other pro leagues (Arena) been and what did you learn from those?

A. Its been a good experience just to get back in the feel of things, being out there with the guys and feeling that locker room comradery. It also gave me a refresher that this is a business, in all aspects of the game, from the smaller leagues to the bigger leagues it is a business and you have to approach it as such.

Q. How has your game improved since college?

A. Honestly, I don’t really know too much, because I haven’t been able to showcase my talents in a 11-on-11 setting. I’d say I’m definitely still healthy, I have not been injured. Once I am able to get on that field I can really judge how much better I got. The last 11-on-11 game I played was that Spring League game and I was the MVP of that. It’s definitely a steady preparation every day to keep my body ready. Once you got some pads on the game is going to come natural, it’s like riding a bike. The same thing I have been playing my whole life and I have been pretty good at it.

Q. What is your favorite Shawn Oakman coin flip meme and how did that one viral meme affect your life.

A. For me, the “tuition” one or the “daddy” one was my favorite. It definitely had a huge effect on my life, I was nationally known for that picture so it gave me a platform to really express myself (shoutout to the Cowboys stadium and their huge jumbotron television). I would say it was also both good and bad, just for the simple fact of going through the trial and people perceiving you a certain type of way.

Q. Who is one person that has motivated you throughout your football career and just life in general?

A. I would definitely say my immediate family. Football has the ability to change generations of lives and coaches always ask what is your “why”, why do you play. My ‘why’ has always been my family, to give them a better life than the ones they have ever had or been able to experience.

Q. As a projected 1st round pick, why did you stay another year in college and how do you think your life would’ve changed if you came out a year earlier?

A. Well you know they say God never makes mistakes so I stayed for a bigger purpose. I did not stay for myself, I did not stay for anyone else but the people that needed me to stay and that was teammates and my family. I’m the first boy out of my immediate family to earn a college degree and so for me having my college degree that changes my perspective of the next generation that is coming under me and my siblings. It is no longer an impossible task, now it is a requirement and a goal that we need to focus on. It’s not something we just want to do or can’t do, it is a must. In terms of how my life would have changed, I’m not really sure. I think I would have been in the NFL right now but that is the only thing I think would be different.

Q. Is the NFL the final goal?

A. Yes, the NFL is the primary goal. Just to have that stamp to say that I did make it after all my trials and tribulations would be great.

 

XFLBoard.com would like to wish Shawn Oakman a good future in the XFL and thank him for joining Jackson Conner and answering these questions. 

Running Back Nico Evans sees opportunity in the XFL

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In 2018, during his senior year at the University of Wyoming, Nico Evans rushed for a total of 1325 yards over ten games. That works out to an average of 132.5 yards per game. It was a standout season, where he was selected “First Team” in the All-Mountain West Conference.

This was when pro-football scouts began to take notice.

However, despite being highly rated, as the 2019 NFL draft ended, Evans found himself undrafted. But, he didn’t have to wait long for a team to be interested, as he was quickly picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles and invited to their rookie training camp. Then, Evans quickly encountered another setback when the Eagles waived his contract and sent him home.

“It was a weird situation, going into a team that already had eight running backs,” said Nico. “They decided they needed an Offensive Lineman. That’s kind of how the NFL works. It was a numbers thing. So, I was the last one in at running back, so I was the first one out, and an O-Lineman was signed.”

Since then, other NFL teams have shown interest in Nico’s talents, as he has had workouts with the Jaguars and the Packers.

This is a typical example of the “yoyo” game so many young football players go through as they work to get a job playing the game that they love.

Now, the most recent opportunity to present itself to Nico is an invitation to the XFL draft, which will be held in October.

“I am blessed to get that invitation and be part of the XFL draft pool,” Nico said.

If the XFL needs a running back with youth and talent, Nico Evans might be just what they are looking for. Nico describes his style as a one-cut back. “I don’t like to make too many moves, but when I see the hole I hit it as fast as I can.”

Nico has stats to back up his claims. According his website, nicoevansfootball.com he consistently runs the 40 in the 4.4s, and was was chip-timed running greater than 22 mph. Evans pointed out that it was in the “Boise State game” where he hit this mark.

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When asked which XFL team he hoped would draft him, Nico said he would be happy with any team that would give him the best opportunity to play. “Los Angeles, Florida, Texas… it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter where I play, as long as I get to play this game that I love,” he said.

“My story is not finished,” Nico added. “I am grateful for this XFL opportunity.”

It would be great to see Nico Evans on an XFL roster in February 2020.

Hear more about Nico Evans in our Podcast

XFL Xtra Episode 2-2019 – From LA to New York – Nico Evans and Mike Mitchell

We go to Los Angeles to talk to Nico Evans, an extremely talented young running back who has just been invited to the XFL draft. Then, we travel to New York City to speak with Mike Mitchell, and get special insight on how the XFL hired their coaches, the upcoming draft, and about how successful the league has been so far.

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Bob Stoops’ autobiography discusses his decision to join the XFL and more

Bob Stoops’ autobiography, “No Excuses: The Making of a Head Coach,” is now now available at bookstores and online at Amazon.com.

In the book Stoops discusses subjects such as now-Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon, his heart disease, and the decision to join the XFL. Stoops talks about his decision to not cut Mixon after a misdemeanor assault charge.

“I could have cut Mixon loose in 2014,” Stoops said. “In 2019, that’s the only choice that would’ve been acceptable. If I were faced with the same situation today, my decision would be much different than the one I made in 2014.”

Book summary:

When Bob Stoops took over as football coach in 1999, the Oklahoma Sooners were in disarray with back-to-back losing seasons. But in just two years’ time, Stoops achieved the seemingly impossible: winning a national championship and returning the struggling Sooners to their powerhouse status, churning out NFL talent, Heisman Trophy winners and conference championships, bowl wins and national title runs on a regular basis.

During his 18 seasons at OU, his record was a remarkable 190-48. At only age 56, at the peak of his career, he stunned the college football world by walking away.

For the first time, Bob opens up about his career alongside the evolution of the game itself. From his unlikely emergence as a star player at the University of Iowa, to his coaching apprenticeships under giants like Hayden Fry, Bill Snyder, and Steve Spurrier, Stoops recounts how the game he fell in love with as a boy has evolved into a billion-dollar business often compromised by recruiting wars, aggressive agents, overzealous boosters and alumni, and the emergence of the CEO head coach rather than mentor and teacher. Bob holds nothing back while explaining why it was time to step away from the game–and players–he still loves.

Told with a rare combination of sincerity, vulnerability, and pure heart, No Excuses is both an engaging and eye-opening football memoir and an unprecedented portrait of a coach of one of the greatest legacy programs in the history of the college game.

XFL games will feature premium sideline seating

Speaking at the VenuesNow Conference in New York, Elevate Sports Ventures chief executive Al Guido has revealed that XFL games will feature premium sideline seating that will give fans a bold new version of a front-row view.

Guido did not announce how how much these seats would cost. As far as safety is concerned, he clarified that “fans in these seats would remain safe.”

Earlier this year, the XFL signed a two-year partnership with Elevate Sports Ventures to help guide and support ticket sales for the league’s eight teams ahead of its launch in February 2020.

Elevate – a joint venture of the San Francisco 49ers, Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, Ticketmaster, Live Nation, and the Oakview Group – will use “data-driven sales and digital marketing strategies and applications” for the XFL.

Guido, who is also the president of the San Francisco 49ers, said if the initiative goes well the National Football League may consider taking it on.

XFL names Mali Friedman Vice President of Legal and Business Affairs

Mali Friedman
Mali Friedman

Stamford, Conn., Sept. 9, 2019 – The XFL today announced that Mali Friedman has been named the league’s Vice President of Legal and Business Affairs.  Most recently she was Assistant General Counsel of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors and, before that, Senior Counsel at the National Hockey League.

“Mali is a star and we’re thrilled she’s on our team,” said Jeffrey Pollack, XFL President and Chief Operating Officer. “Her judgment, savvy and experience inside two world-class sports organizations make her the perfect leader for our legal department.”

“This is an exciting opportunity and I’m grateful to Vince McMahon and Jeffrey Pollack,” said Friedman, who will report to Pollack. “Like most people throughout the sports industry, I’ve been watching the XFL’s development and have been impressed by the vision and early execution. Our February launch is coming fast and I look forward to rolling up my sleeves, getting to work, and helping build the league and its teams.”

As Warriors Assistant General Counsel since 2017, Friedman managed a wide range of legal matters and business affairs — helping the organization transform from a basketball team to a diversified sports and entertainment company; negotiating multi-million-dollar corporate sponsorship agreements; supervising the leasing process for retail spaces at the new Chase Center; and providing day-to-day counsel to the team’s marketing, digital, technology, and game operations business units, and the Warriors Community Foundation

Friedman was Senior Counsel at the NHL from 2014 to 2017, where she focused on media partnerships, international business, and technology initiatives.

Friedman was an associate at Covington & Burling LLP. She earned her J.D. from Stanford Law School in 2006, and an A.B. from Princeton University in 2002, graduating summa cum laude with a concentration in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and played on the tennis team.  Friedman serves on the U.S. Board of Directors for Right to Play, an international organization dedicated to protecting, educating, and empowering children to rise above adversity using the power of sport and play.

XFL Draft invitee Trovon Reed is ready to play

Dec 11, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; San Diego Chargers cornerback Trovon Reed (38) on the sidelines in the fourth quarter. The Panthers defeated the Chargers 28-16 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

If you ask XFL Draft invitee Trovon Reed which XFL team he hopes to play for, he will tell you that it doesn’t matter.

“Wherever I go I’m going to be happy. I’m going to be ready. They’re going to get a player who is still hungry and knows the game of football,” Trovon explained.

Trovon just wants to play football.

Growing up in Thibodaux, Louisiana, Trovon graduated from Thibodaux High School in 2010. In high school he initially took to the basketball team, but when he stopped growing, he turned to football, eventually chosen as a “High School All American.”

He is still closely attached to Thibodaux. In fact, June 29th is “Trovon Reed Day” in Thibodaux, Louisiana. On this day, Trovon holds a celebrity basketball game where he raises money for single mothers and cancer patients. This gives Trovon a chance to honor his mother, who he lost to cancer when he was 17-years old.

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After high school, Trovon attended Auburn University in Alabama. Initially a wide receiver, Trovon switched to cornerback in his senior year. He entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent and went on to a few NFL rosters, including the Seahawks, Rams, Dolphins, Chargers and 49ers.

Trovon still cherishes his college career, as he identifies himself as a, “War Eagle.”

“Without a doubt I’m an Auburn guy. I bleed orange and blue,” Trovon is proud to say.

When it comes to being a ball hawk, Trovon feels hard work and instincts are the key to success. “I think it’s god given. It’s something you can’t teach. If a coach tries to teach it to you, you’d be robotic,” Trovon explained. “I have a few different techniques I use, but I can’t spill all the beans,” he added.

In 2018 Trovon was signed to a contract with the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American football, and he soon discovered that many of his former Auburn teammates were also part of the squad. “It was nice, we had a blast, man. I wish that league was still going.”

Like many players, Trovon laments the loss of the AAF. “We were headed for the playoffs. It was just getting good. Then boom, it ended like that.”

When asked about his recipe for staying in shape, he pointed out that he combines cardio sessions with weightlifting sessions.

“You never know when an NFL team might call,” Trovon pointed out. “I’ve got to stay ready. I’ve got to stay sharp. I’ve got to keep my feet sharp. Keep everything sharp. You never know. I was in this position before and got the call. I’ll never be not ready.”

Today, Trovon Reed is ready to play his brand of football.

“I just play football. I play within the rules. I listen to my coach, and I just go out there and play my game.”

We hope to see Trovon Reed on an XFL squad this February.