Tight End Dimitrios Tsesmetzis soon to join the DC Defenders

Dimitrios Tsesmetzis catces a pass at the New York XFL Summer Showcase.
Dimitrios Tsesmetzis catches a pass at the New York XFL Summer Showcase.

As a youngster growing up in upstate New York, Dimitrios Tsesmetzis started playing football. He mostly played on offense, in the positions of left tackle and guard. However, as he grew older, he became lankier and longer.

“I was a very short, heavy-set kid. I made it all the way to freshman year (of high school) playing left tackle,” Dimitrios explained. “Then from freshman year to sophomore year, I went from 5’10” to 6’4″. My coach told me to go out and catch a ball. I caught my first ball and then he was like, all right, play tight end. And that’s where it all started.”

Once Tsesmetzis started playing tight end, his height, coupled with his wide wingspan, became his on-field weapons. Currently, Tsesmetzis stands 6’7″ with cleats on.

After high school, Dimitrios played for the Division 3 Western Connecticut State University Colonials. When he emerged from college, he was hungry for a pro-football career and was faced with the challenge of finding a spot on a roster. He was passed over in the NFL draft, but was eventually selected by the San Antonio Commanders in the Alliance of American Football. Unfortunately, Dimitrios only made it through the first Commander’s mini-camp before being cut.

Dimitrios refers to his time with the Commanders with a positive attitude. “Definitely a great experience,” he said. “It showed me what I needed to work on. I got right back into the gym, worked on all of it. Got right mentally, especially.”

From this learning experience, Dimitrios played with the Spring League in Austin, Texas in April 2019. In some way, this led to two separate XFL Summer Showcase invitations, in New York and Houston. Tsesmetzis chose to go to the showcase in New York, mainly because it was closer to home.

Dimitrios performed well at the showcase, and interest in his skills flourished. Later in the fall, he was invited to the XFL draft, where he was selected by the DC Defenders in the open phase of the draft.

On the first day of the XFL draft, Dimitrios and his father followed the picks closely. However, they did not hear Dimitrios’ name called on the first day, so they planned to follow the open draft picks on day two.

“I think that the open draft wasn’t live, so I was just waiting around,” Dimitrios explained. “It was raining really hard one day, and I was on my way to the training facility. Someone DM’d me a picture, and it was that the Defenders had picked me.”

When asked if he was ready for the Defenders first mini-camp in December, Dimitrios was quick to respond. “Definitely,” he said. “I’ve been preparing since I got the call.”

Demetrious is also enthusiastic to be able to learn from the Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton, assistant head coach Brent Battle and tight ends coach Chris Scelfo.

“I know that when we get the mini-camp we’re going to put in the work and we’re going to be the best team in the XFL,” Dimitrios added.

The entire interview with Dimitrios Tsesmetzis may be found in XFL Xtra Episode 10-2019 – Breaking in


Drafted Twice. Defensive Lineman Kristjan Sokoli goes to the XFL DC Defenders

Kristjan Sokoli Seahawks

Born in Albania, Kristjan Sokoli is the son of Albanian immigrants. When Kristjan came to America at nine-years old, he was an avid soccer fan. However, he later fell in love with football after he witnessed his cousin playing the game.

“I was really crazy about soccer,” Kristjan said. “At about 12-13 years old, I started watching my cousin play high school football. He played with a tenacity and aggression I really admired.”

With his cousin as his role model, Kristjan began to play football.

After a shining high school football career at Bloomfield High School in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Kristjan was offered a full scholarship at the University of Buffalo in return for playing with the Bulls. Kristjan originally heard about the University of Buffalo offer through his high school football coach, Coach Carter.

“I remember very vividly, he (Carter) calls me, he says, ‘Moose, Buffalo is going to call you in about five minutes. They’re going to offer you a scholarship.'” Sokoli recalled. He also recalled being very eager to accept the offer, especially since attending college was foremost in his mind. “Buffalo was telling me on the phone, we want you to come visit this weekend, make up your mind when you come here… and I’m just, ‘no sir, I’m committing. I’m taking this scholarship.'”

Sokoli claims he didn’t even know where Buffalo was, but a few days later he, his parents, and his brother, went to visit the campus. Kristjan fell in love with a beautiful snowy Buffalo in January, combined with the fact he was being offered a golden opportunity to play football and get a college education.

Although he had played a variety of positions in his high school days, once at Buffalo, Sokoli became a full-time defensive lineman. When he came to Buffalo, he stood at 6’5″ and weighed 220 pounds, however, by the time he was in his junior year, he had grown to 300 pounds. This is when he won a starting position on the defensive line.

“It was wild, but that was a college cafeteria, and getting into my age, I was turning twenty then,” Kristjan explained his weight gain. “Zack Duvall did a great job with us there. He got us bigger, faster, and stronger. Definitely bigger and stronger. For a guy like me, honestly, that program worked.”

For two years, Sokoli was an integral part of a Buffalo pass rush which was led by future first-round draft pick Khalil Mack.

Sokoli’s college career led to him being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. However, the boost of being drafted into the NFL led to a challenge, as the Seahawks wanted Sokoli to play on the other side of the ball and switch to being a center on the offensive line. Kristjan accepted the challenge, but things did not work out.

“I wanted to make it work bad as hell, man,” Kristjan lamented. “Especially going into that second training camp, I just didn’t have a good camp. It just wasn’t consistent enough and I understood why they wanted to go in a different direction.”

Kristjan’s heart told him he was still meant to be a defensive lineman. “I’m meant to be a D-lineman…  I have an attack nature, and an aggressive nature. That’s my mentality. I really felt my best chance was playing defensive line.”

From the Seahawks, Sokoli went to the Colts, Saints and then finally to the Giants… and an opportunity to make the team as a defensive lineman.

“I remained with the Giants throughout their GM changes and coaching changes in the off-season in 2018. I was having a really solid camp actually, and I tore my ACL on the first game,” Kristjan said.

“The first (NFL) training camp at D-line, fourth training game. I finally had a shot to play D line.”

Kristjan is quick to say that he doesn’t consider this to be a “sob story.” He still counts his blessings and points out he has had a lot of breaks in his life and, despite the setbacks, still considers himself to be lucky.

We all know that every setback can be followed by an opportunity, which is what Sokoli found, starting with attending an XFL Summer Showcase, and then being drafted by the DC Defenders in the open phase of the 2019 XFL Draft.

With training camps coming up Kristjan has turned his attention to preparing for football.

“I can’t wait. I’m excited, you know? Four weeks of training here, five weeks maybe before we go into mini camp training,” Sokoli said. “I just feel like I’m in a good place and I’m, I’m around good people and I’m just really excited for the opportunity and the ability to be able to focus.”

“I left my job at Merill Lynch in good terms,” Kristjan said. “I plan to go back when football’s done. But to be able to say that for five weeks, I can just really dial in on football and football only, as a blessing. And to have good people in my corner.”

For now, Kristjan is back to focusing on football, however, he hopes to return to an investor job when football ends.

“I got to get my series seven, and I tested two days ago, and I passed that. So, I was really excited to get that done,” Kristjan said, referring to passing his test to become a registered financial representative. “I definitely plan to be back in that after football.”

Smartly, Kristjan has leveraged the Business Administration degree he received at the University of Buffalo into a budding career. In fact, when Sokoli got the news of being drafted to the XFL, he was driving home from a job at Merrill Lynch. Now, he has put his business career on hiatus, just so he can return to professional football.

He feels he could help young footballers invest their money, just so they have a nest egg after the football money dries up.

“Two or three-hundred grand invested wisely could mean $15-$20,000 a year for the rest of your life… and then as that money grows, it becomes $30,000 a year the rest of your life.”

Kristjan is not just a great football player. He’s also smart with money.

In respect to his football career, a good-natured Kristjan likes to point out a bit of trivia.

“I think I’m one of the very few athletes, I guess, with the privilege of being drafted twice,” a jovial Sokoli pointed out. “It’s very cool.”

To hear the entire interview with Kristjan Sokoli, check out Episode 9 of our XFL Xtra podcast.

DC Defenders XFL 2020 Schedule Analysis

DC Defenders Schedule

When is a game more than just a game? When an entire league’s reputation and perception are potentially at stake. Superbowl III was more than just a game. The truth is that while talks were on-going and probably inevitable, of a merger between the NFL and AFL back in the late sixties, the two league experiment wasn’t going very well. The NFL was the superior football league and the first two non-NFL championship game “Superbowls” were noncompetitive and just glorified exhibitions. They didn’t draw very well and lacked credibility in the football world. The AFL didn’t appear as if it really belonged.  As heavy underdogs, the Jets carried the burden of an entire league on their shoulders when they upset the Baltimore Colts. A year later, the Chiefs would go to win the Superbowl and solidify the now AFC forever.

On Saturday, February 8th, 2020.   The XFL is actually going to get a second chance to make a first impression. The original XFL’s first chance to make an impression failed in spectacular fashion. The league debuted in front of a sold-out crowd in Las Vegas on primetime network television.  For a first-year league playing its first-ever game, the expectations and ratings were through the roof. Unfortunately, the game and the entire league crashed through the basement floor. The league wasn’t ready for primetime and it never really recovered from the premiere game in the public’s eyes. The play and product did get better as the season progressed but it was too little, too late. This time around, the league is debuting on ABC and Fox, in a back to back network doubleheader in the afternoon but the same stakes are in place. The question leading into the XFL 2020 schedule reveal was, “How would the current XFL go about scheduling their first and arguably most important game of the season?”  In terms of the mainstream public, none of the games have more importance than the first impression that the XFL makes. How the premiere game plays out will have an effect on football fans who are on the fence about watching the XFL, and whether they will decide to continue watching the league.

The choice for the premiere game could have been in Dallas. After all, Texas is football country. Globe Life Park is being retrofitted and reimagined for pro football. Bob Stoops is making his return to the sidelines, with the Innovator of the Air Raid Offense, Hal Mumme calling plays for Stoops former Quarterback Landry Jones. While Dallas Cowboys legend Daryl “Moose” Johnston watches the Renegades team he constructed along with Stoops.

The kickoff game for the XFL could have been St. Louis in The Dome. The return of pro football to the River City.  It could also have been in Los Angeles, with the Wildcats kicking off the season from the city where LA’s last pro football champions played. The premiere game could have been on the biggest stage possible with New York at Metlife Stadium. What’s old is new again could have been the theme with June Jones and his legendary run and shoot offense making a spring pro football comeback to the city of Houston. Decades after lighting up scoreboards with the Houston Gamblers in the USFL. The XFL season could have started in Tampa, six days after the Superbowl is played in the very same venue. One of the best and most passionate sports cities in the world in Seattle could have also played host to the XFL’s return.

The DC Defenders are getting the honor and distinction of being the team that kicks off the XFL season at home. Arguably the most important game of the entire XFL season and league is the first one.  At the start of any season, there is always pressure to win and get off on the right foot. This opening game goes beyond just the normal pressures of winning and losing. The DC Defenders and Seattle Dragons share in the same pressure of being the game that sets the tone and creates a new first impression for the league.


A lot of firsts in this game. This will be Pep Hamilton’s first-ever game as a pro football head coach. It could be Cardale Jones first-ever start as a pro football quarterback. Both the Head Coach and Quarterback are finally getting their chance to shine in roles they have waited quite some time for.  Legendary Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Jim Zorn brings his Seattle Dragons, to the scene of his previous crimes in DC. At least that’s the way, DC football fans feel about Jim Zorn and his time coaching there. This is a very early game for Seattle, so it’s possible that the Dragons come out to DC a day or two earlier just to get adjusted. The setting is a unique one. While XFL teams like Seattle, play in tradition football stadiums, the Defenders will be playing their home games at the home of Major League Soccer’s DC United. A beautiful smaller-sized stadium that is designed to make the fans feel like they are on the field with the players.  Early returns on ticket sales have been positive and this game has the potential to be at or near capacity come February. If you are a fan of football weather in the winter, this game has a chance to fill that need. Two of the teams playing in the coldest weather environments will be playing at home in week one in NY and DC, and it would make for an interesting style of play if this game ends up with snowy conditions.


DC has 4 games currently scheduled on ABC, with a potential 5th in the final week of the season. This is the Defenders’ first divisional game on their schedule. The two markets have pro football history going back between one another for many years now. They are natural rivals. DC has 4 of their first 6 games at home. So these home divisional games are going to be very important for the Defenders.


Much like the Defenders, the Wildcats play in a soccer stadium that the Chargers and MLS’s LA Galaxy share. This is DC’s longest road trip of the season after starting off the first two weeks at home. To their benefit, it is a later game and they do have an extra day to prep for it. The weather can be a complete contrast from what DC has seen up until this point. Cardale Jones returns to LA, the place he has been in the NFL since 2017.


The second straight road and night game for the Defenders. This can technically be considered the league’s first prime time game. This is also the first game where the Defenders will be playing in a traditional pro football stadium.


The Defenders return home after a 2 game road trip. This will be their second straight divisional matchup. The game features a  battle of two first time head coaches in Hamilton and Jonathan Hayes. Hamilton, Hayes and Winston Moss are the three coaches in the league who all share the same distinction. FS1 is a frequent home for Defender games during the season. This is also the third of five straight Sunday games for the Defenders.


This could be a preview of the XFL Championship game. Two of the more accomplished Quarterbacks in the entire league face off in Cardale Jones and Landry Jones. This is a crucial stretch for the Defenders before they close the regular season playing 3 of their last 4 games on the road. The Renegades are projected and rightfully so to be one of the league’s best teams. This is another market in Dallas, that DC has a long-standing natural rivalry with.


In a wide-open fast-paced league that the XFL figures to be, this matchup is one of the reasons that DC went so corner heavy in their DB draft, taking 7 corners in total. You need them all against June Jones and the Run and Shoot offense.


The final home game of the season at Audi Field for the DC Defenders. If the Defenders win the Eastern Division, they will not be able to host a playoff game at Audi Field, as the venue will not be available. It’s unfortunate but the drawback to not being a primary tenant. DC hopes to be in that position by the end of the season. The league would have to set up potential alternate sites. RFK is not in the cards and FedEx may not be either. So it’s possible that in the DMV, Navy or Maryland’s football stadiums could be alternate sites. Since the league’s championship game figures to be at a neutral site. This would only be a 1-week issue. The Defenders are going to have to win this game to keep any home game playoff scenarios a reality. They are finally back playing on ABC and on Saturday afternoon.


Huge divisional matchup. The Defenders close out their season with two straight divisional games on the road. If DC makes the playoffs, they will have earned it.


The time and channel that this game will air are yet to be determined. Disney and Fox are supposed to make that decision in March. The western division playoff teams could  be decided on Saturday. It’s all about the East on Sunday. Depending on where the Defenders and BattleHawks stand by seasons end. This could end be the toughest road game for any team in the XFL. If the playoffs are on the line in this game. St. Louis is going to be electric. New York and Tampa play on this final day of the regular season as well. So all 4 division teams play each other in the final weekend. Only two of them are going to the playoffs. There’s a chance that DC could be headed right back here in the following week or that St. Louis could be headed to play DC. Rather fitting that DC could be in the position of starting and finishing the XFL regular season.

DC Defenders XFL Draft Recap

NFL teams have an entire year to prep for an upcoming draft class. Countless resources and hours are spent scouting and dissecting potential draft eligible prospects. All of this is done to draft 7 players. Some teams stockpile picks and end up drafting 10, 12 or maybe even 14 players. Now imagine if you will, having to draft 70 players. That’s quite the task for any pro football franchise, let alone eight of them. The coaching staffs and front offices in the XFL had their work cut out for them.

The process of scouting players was a collaborative effort between the league’s football operations department and it’s in house scouting department in ‘Optimum’, led by Eric Galko. The league conducted eight separate combine style showcases this past summer, where nearly 900 players worked out in front of coaches and team executives. Very late in the draft preparation process, the XFL added 295 players into their 1,000 plus player draft pool. 209 of those players that just missed the cut in the NFL in late August, ended up being drafted by XFL teams.

One of the areas that XFL teams leaned on with their player personnel departments, is having members of those offices, who were just recently in the AAF earlier this year. There’s Daryl Johnston (San Antonio to Dallas), Tony Softli (AAF Director of Scouting to Seattle), Josh Hinch (Orlando to Tampa), Randy Mueller (Salt Lake to Houston), Trip MacCracken (Arizona to NY), Dave Boller (San Diego to Dallas), Chris Thompson (Atlanta to NY), Robert Morris (San Antonio to Dallas), Will Lewis (Memphis to Houston), John Peterson (San Antonio to NY) and Trey Brown (Birmingham to St. Louis). This also extended to the individual coaching staffs. The experience of building a team in a spring pro football league, and the insider knowledge of the AAF’s 400 plus players was helpful.

The DC Defenders like the LA Wildcats, went a different route with their Director of Player Personnel positions. The Wildcats hired highly respected NFL personnel evaluator Joey Clinkscales, who was just recently with the Oakland Raiders. The Defenders GM/Head Coach Pep Hamilton leaned on one of his past connections in Greg Gabriel, from Hamilton’s time  coaching with The Chicago Bears. Greg Gabriel brings to the Defenders, three decades of NFL scouting experience, including a decade as the Chicago Bears Director of College Scouting and most recently with the Philadelphia Eagles. Prior to working in Chicago, Gabriel spent two seasons scouting for his hometown Buffalo Bills and then 16 seasons in the New York Giants personnel department. Like most of the team personnel people in the XFL. Gabriel hit the trail, going to NFL camps this summer to scout players. One of the players that was heavily scouted by all XFL teams, in the NFL preseason this summer, ended up being the DC Defenders assigned quarterback.


Cardell Jones Drafted to the DC Defenders


Can you win the day before the draft has even started? It sure felt that way when just hours before the XFL began their five phase player draft, Cardale Jones was officially announced as being the Defenders assigned quarterback. From day one, Cardale always seemed like the type of Quarterback that the league would be interested in. Jones recently revealed in an interview , that the XFL had  been in contact with him for quite some time.  Last year,  XFL Executive VP Doug Whaley reached out to Cardale, a player he drafted in Buffalo, to let him know that the XFL has a spot waiting for him,  if he were to become available. Cardale was scouted heavily by several XFL teams this summer. Tampa’s Marc Trestman and LA’s Norm Chow were in Chargers camp watching Cardale Jones. Why the heavy interest in a player that only started 11 games in college, and has just 11 career pass attempts in his NFL career?

At 6’5 250 pounds, with a strong arm and good mobility in the pocket, it’s never been a question of physical talent with Cardale Jones. He’s always had elite physical traits. What has really stood out the last two years is how well he has developed and matured as a Quarterback.  You’d have to be looking very closely to notice that, since Cardale’s best work has been during the summer in the NFL the last two years. Cardale finally started to mature as a quarterback and make real strides in his development. Jones completed 68 percent of his passes this past summer, and earned the praise of his coaches in Los Angeles. Ultimately, Jones lost out to the numbers game in LA. His time had run out. With Phillip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor and draft pick Easton Stick in the mix at QB for the Chargers. There was no more room for Cardale. A month ago, Jones was signed to the Seahawks practice squad. A familiar place for him, a spot he held for the entire season last year with The Chargers.

Not ready and too much too soon would be the best way to describe Cardale’s career thus far. He started out as a backup for the Buckeyes, was thrust into a starting role, and became an instant superstar at Ohio State. He sprung onto the scene, lit the college football world on fire and won a National Championship. He was so great, right out the gate, that many people were discussing the possibility of him being a surefire top 5 pick in the NFL draft. Cardale decided to go back to school. The following year, Cardale ended up being a co-starter with the player he replaced due to injury the prior campaign, JT Barrett. The expectation level was through the roof for Jones but he didn’t live up to it. A year after potentially being earmarked as a first round pick, Cardale surprised many by declaring for the draft. His stock had taken a hit but Jones decision ultimately came down to supporting his family. Jones ended up being drafted in the 4th round of the 2106 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills. Cardale’s immense talent and upside, got him drafted,  and he was put into the role of being a third string developmental quarterback. Cardale only saw the field for Buffalo in relief duty. The Chargers ended up trading for Jones and his upside. Cardale spent 2017 as a backup, never seeing the field. 2018 is where Cardale started to show signs of his potential. It earned him another full season with LA. Jones credits being on the same team as Phillip Rivers, as one of the reasons for his growth as a Quarterback.  Cardale’s improvement during this past summer, made it appear, as if he wouldn’t be a realistic target for any of the XFL teams…..  However, Cardale ran out of room in LA, and the Seahawks signed him briefly as insurance for Russell Wilson and Geno Smith. Cardale looked as if he’d always be arrested in development. That’s ultimately the reason, he chose the XFL, despite having teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars  show interest in signing him to their practice squads.

Cardale’s dream is to one day be a starting Quarterback in the NFL, but he is at a cross roads in his career, only 27 years old, but stuck in neutral.  With the XFL, Cardale finally gets a shot to play, start and lead his own team in DC. This has the potential to be the type of story that Kurt Warner, Jon Kitna, Jake Delhomme, Brad Johnson and Tommy Maddox were, when being given an opportunity to shine in another pro football league.



WR Rashard Davis has the distinction of being the first pick overall in the XFL Draft.  Would he have been the first pick overall if the draft format had every position involved?  Did the Defenders reach for him? They could have gone with someone who has more of an established pro resume with their first pick. Taking Davis sends a clear message. The Defenders not only project Davis to be their #1 target in their passing game, but potentially the best receiver/weapon in the entire league.  Davis was a superstar on the FCS level, but what got him that distinction was his electrifying open field skills as a returner. As a former dual threat quarterback in high school, The 5’9 Rashard Davis started out his college career as a gadget player. It wasn’t until his final year at JMU, that Davis broke out and was a game changer. As a senior he played in all 15 games, making 12 starts. He set a JMU and CAA single-season record with an FCS-best four punt returns for  touchdowns. Davis had 15 punt returns for a JMU single-season record 426 yards and four scores. He also tallied 42 receptions for 530 yards and three touchdowns. Davis was named the CAA Special Teams Player of the year. Rashard went undrafted but was signed by The Philadelphia Eagles.  He spent the entire 2017 season, on and off the Eagles practice squad. Davis earned himself a Superbowl ring as a member of the Eagles in his rookie season, to go along with his FCS championship, that he won in 2016. Davis would end up making the Eagles practice squad in his second season, only to be cut and then signed by Oakland. Davis would finish the year on the Raiders practice squad. This past April, he was cut by the Raiders, then claimed by the Chiefs, only to be released on cutdown day in late August. The fact that an FCS player was taken first overall sends a strong statement. Cardale Jones was there in the DC draft room and announced Davis as the first  pick. Hopefully it’s a sign of many more connections to come between the two.

Tre McBride was the Defenders second selection in this phase. McBride is yet another player on the Defenders who was released at cutdown day by an NFL team (Jaguars). McBride is a small school product out of William & Mary, a track star, who ran a 4.3 at 6’0 and 210 pounds. It got him drafted in the 7th round by The Titans in 2015.  Despite his skillset as a potentially dynamic receiver and returner. McBride at just 26 years old,  has been on 5 NFL teams, but has never been able to break through.  The Defenders also drafted former Penn State speedster DeAndre Thompkins at the receiver position in this phase. Thompkins is an undrafted rookie signed by the Eagles, who ran a 4.33 40 at PSU’s Pro Day.  The Eagles obviously saw something they liked in him,  because they reportedly paid him $85,000 guaranteed to sign, which was the third-most paid out  among the NFL’s undrafted free agents. He  was cut by the Eagles this summer, after battling a shoulder injury.  In his Penn State career, Thompkins caught 83 passes for 1,245 yards and six touchdowns. He was also a factor in the return game, where he averaged 10.2 yards on 66 punt returns and scored two touchdowns. This is another projection pick by the Defenders, as Thompkins wasn’t a big receiving  star in college but he is loaded with upside. Rounding out the receiver group in this phase is the son of former NFL great, WR Ed McCaffrey, and the brother of currently off the charts great running back, Christian McCaffrey. Max McCaffrey, only 26, has been on 5 different teams in the NFL, and has only 1 career catch. A heady player with good size and football smarts, McCaffrey could be headed to a potential slot role in the Defenders offense.

It can be argued that DC has the best running back duo in the entire league. Jhurell Pressley is another example of a talented runner, who hasn’t been able to rise up the depth chart in the NFL. Despite being a star in college at New Mexico, and running a 4.40 in the 40 yard dash coming out. Pressley went undrafted,  and has been on 5 different NFL teams, but has never carried the rock  in the regular season. It wasn’t until Jhurell Pressley joined the AAF and was allocated  to the Arizona Hotshots, that he would finally get his chance to shine. The Defenders Offensive Line Coach & Run Game Coordinator Chris Scelfo, had one of the AAF’s best three headed backfield attacks with Pressley, Tim Cook and Justin Stockton. All three were drafted into the XFL. No surprise that Jhurell would be high on DC’s board. Teaming up with Jhurell will be the NCAA’s Division I all-time leading rusher in Donnel Pumphrey. The 5’8 176 Pumphrey, was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 4th round of the 2017 NFL Draft. It was considered a disappointment that he “only” ran a 4.48 coming out of college. Pumphrey ended up tearing his hamstring as a rookie, and missing the entire season. He did earn a superbowl ring with fellow teammate Rashard Davis. The following season, Pumphrey was released on cutdown day, claimed by the Lions on their practice squad, only to be cut again and return to Philly on their practice squad. Pumphrey didn’t make the Eagles roster at cutdown day over a month ago. If Pumphrey can stay healthy at his size, he can finally have the opportunity to display his talents on the field.

The Defenders drafted three tight ends in this phase. Khari Lee, Orson Charles and Adrien Robinson. Lee is a small school receiving star out of Bowie State in Maryland. Lee has spent  time with 4 different NFL teams. Lee’s upside is such that he was actually traded for by the Bears, which is very rare for an undrafted free agent. While Lee at 6’4 and 235, is strictly a receiving talent. Orson Charles is an excellent in-line blocker, who has played fullback in the NFL. A former 4th round pick and John Mackey award finalist out of Georgia. Charles has been on six NFL teams as a role player. He spent the entire season last year with The Browns, lead blocking for Nick Chubb. This past summer, he was released by Denver at final cuts.  Adrien Robinson is also a former 4th round pick. He has been with the Giants, Jets and Memphis in the AAF. Robinson’s end in the AAF made headlines, when he was charged $2,500 dollars  for his own lodging on his credit card.

One of the best picks in the skill player draft was undrafted rookie Quarterback out of Buffalo, Tyree Jackson. The Defenders took him in the 9th round of this phase. Jackson was the MVP and Most Outstanding Offensive Player in the MAC.  The 21 year old, 6’7 248 pound Jackson, declared early for the NFL draft. He was voted team MVP at the Senior Bowl, but went undrafted and then signed with The Buffalo Bills. Jackson spent the entire preseason with Buffalo,  but did not make the final cut. Surprisingly despite his size and mobility, Tyree is not on an NFL roster. That might still change, but there’s no questioning the upside or quality of this pick.



There are now 7 XFL Draft picks and counting, that have been signed by NFL teams since the draft. The Defenders top draft pick, Kyle Murphy was signed to the Texans practice squad a day after being drafted. A clear example that the DC front office valued a player that is NFL worthy.  DC retains Murphy’s rights, should he become available again. Logan Tulley-Tillman has never been lacking for talent. The 6’7 former 4 star recruit that landed at the University of Michigan, had off field issues as Wolverine, and  ending up transferring in college. His pro aspirations have been sidetracked as a result. Tillman is still fairly young and coming off of a season of development in the AAF. De’Ondre Wesley is a career NFL practice squader. The mammoth 6’7 330 pound tackle, has had some injury issues since coming out of BYU. Jon Toth is a former All SEC Center, who has also had stints in the NFL as a backup. Former UAB/Colts undrafted rookie Rishard Cook follows along a theme of summer NFL cuts on the Defenders. The 340 pound rookie helped the lead the way for one of the nation’s best rushing attacks. Chris Brown is a former 4 star recruit from USC, and another UDFA, that played with The Chargers this summer. Undrafted out of LSU, Toby Weathersby has spent time in the NFL with the Eagles and Pats, and was most recently with the Express in the AAF. According to Pro Football Focus, Center James O’Hagan earned the No. 1 pass blocking grade among all draft-eligible centers during the 2016 and 2017 seasons before returning to finish his career at Buffalo during the 2018 season.  In 2018, O’Hagan took a slight step back in as a pass blocker (No. 4) but finished as the No. 1 overall center in college football thanks to his No. 1 run blocking grade. The New York Giants signed O’Hagan as an undrafted rookie free agent following the conclusion of the 2019 NFL Draft,  as most teams passed over him solely due to his size. O’Hagan is a former teammate of Defenders Quarterback Tyree Jackson. Cardale Jones former Ohio State teammate Chase Farris, can play guard or tackle, after originally starting his college career as a defensive lineman. Casey Tucker also provides the same type of versatility. He played both tackle spots and guard at Arizona State.



James Vaughters was a surprise 1st round pick, much in the same way that Rashard Davis was in the skill position draft. Vaughters has been a journeyman edge rusher since coming out of school at Stanford. Vaughters was at Stanford, when his now Head Coach  Pep Hamilton was there, as was his former teammate, current XFL Director of Football Operations, Sam Schwartzstein. Vaughters has been with 4 NFL teams but his best  gameday production has come in the CFL, where he won a Grey Cup Championship with the Calgary Stampeders. It led to Vaughters signing a contract with The Chicago Bears. Vaughters impressed during  the  2019 NFL preseason with three sacks and two forced fumbles. Not only did his performances get the attention of Bears coach Matt Nagy, but they drew some pretty lofty comparisons too. Matt Nagy compared Vaughters pass rush ability and propensity for causing fumbles to Khalil Mack.  Vaughters initially made the Bears practice squad to only be released in mid September. A month later, Vaughters is drafted onto an XFL team.

Charles Harris is another tweener edge rushing type who was also in Bears camp this summer. Elijah Qualls, a former 6th round pick of The Eagles in 2017, has prototypical Nose Tackle size at 320 plus pounds, but enough natural agility to be more than just a two down run stuffer. Leading the linebacking corps in the center of the Defenders defense should be Scooby Wright. A former 7th round pick and star linebacker in college, Scooby Wright was just recently released off of the Patriots practice squad on October 1st. Tracy Sprinkle, who had a five-year career at Ohio State, ran into many, many obstacles in his path to the NFL. Dealing with injuries throughout his career, Sprinkle went undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has since spent time in the AAF and with The Browns.  Sam Montgomery is one of the better veterans, that is slated to play in the XFL. The former 3rd round pick out of LSU, has had a unique journey to say the least. He has played in multiple leagues, including 3 different NFL teams. Montgomery has always been stout against the run and dependable.  Undersized Linebacker Jonathan Celestin has been a fringe player in the NFL for a few teams and has spent time on practice squads. His measurables and athletic ability have held him back, despite playing well and showing good instincts on the field. The XFL could be the perfect place for him to finally get a chance to prove himself. Keshun Freeman has had a similar path as Celestin. He’s an extremely high character player with leadership traits, who just hasn’t been able to stick in the NFL. He played in the Alliance with the Atlanta Legends. Daryle Banfield is an all Ivy league player, who also has the same character traits as Freeman. Banfield can play inside or outside, depending on the scheme used.



The Defenders went Cornerback with their first 6 picks in this phase. Starting with former Browns DB Elijah Campbell, who  ran one of the fastest 40 times (4.34),  of the nearly 900 players who worked out for XFL teams at their eight Summer Showcases.  From Campbell’s playing days  at UNI, he has always had a nose for the football and is a good open field tackler. CB Des Lawrence has the prototypical size and length at 6’1, to project to be a good press and zone corner. A late bloomer in college,  Lawrence has spent time with the Lions and in the Alliance. The Defender DB picks all leaned on physical traits and that’s no more evident that the selection of Cornerback Jalen Myrick. One of the fastest players in the XFL, the former 7th round pick of the Jaguars in 2017, ran a 4.28 40 at the combine. DC won’t be lacking for speed at corner. That’s for sure. Myrick was most recently with the Falcons, where he was cut on 8/31.  Doran Grant is a young veteran corner, who can play the slot. Grant is a former 4th round pick of the Steelers. Former Alabama DB Bradley Sylve is a 6 foot corner with 4.3 speed with  a highly decorated track background. He has spent time with the Bills, Saints and earlier this year with the Birmingham iron. Sylve came into football late in college,  and is still developing. Reggie Cole has only two years experience playing Corner, after initially playing receiver. He was a standout player at UMHB, but is very raw.

Some football players are notoriously known for one play during their careers. Despite being a quality veteran safety his entire career, and a quality pick by DC. Rahim Moore is known for one moment in time.  In the 2012-2013 NFL playoffs. Denver was leading Baltimore 35-28 with less than a minute left in the game. Baltimore lined up for what was essentially a Hail Mary towards the end zone. Joe Flacco unloaded a bomb to Jacoby Jones. Moore was well-positioned to make a play on the ball but misjudged the trajectory and the pass was completed to Jones for the game-tying touchdown. Baltimore would go on to win the game 38-35 in double overtime and eventually win Super Bowl XLVII. Here’s hoping that one day, Rahim plays the hero in his next playoff setting.

Safety Tyree Kinnel was a 4 star recruit and 3 year starter/team captain for Pep Hamilton’s former team  at Michigan. Despite that, he went undrafted. Kinnel had a good preseason with The Bengals but did not make the roster in September. Carlos Merritt is a ballhawking cover safety from small school Campbell University. Ladarius Gunter has 18 NFL starts in his career, all with the Green Bay Packers. Despite being undrafted and  having less than ideal 4.6 speed. . He’s still only 27 years old and has always gotten by being a physical corner. Gunter last played for the Orlando Apollos.



There are some notable names in this group of 30 players, and some real sleepers. Since the Defenders went with 7 corners in their DB phase. It stood to reason that the safety position would be addressed again, and the most notable name in the group is former NFL 1st round pick, Matt Elam. He was an electrifying player in college. Elam never lived up to his billing in the NFL. A combination of injures, immaturity and off field legal troubles ended his NFL run after 4 seasons in the league. At 28 years old, Elam  hasn’t played pro football since 2016. That’s why despite his talent and pedigree. Elam wasn’t drafted in the DB phase of the league. If he’s got his head on straight. He can rewrite his legacy.

The Defenders drafted a lot of players from NFL roster cuts, and from specific teams. The Bears and Eagles were heavily scouted. Two former stomping grounds for Greg Gabriel. One of the universities that is highly represented in this class is the University of Buffalo. Greg Gabriel’s home town. One of the best open draft picks who was also from Buffalo, is Defensive Lineman Kristjan Sokoli. A former 6th round pick of the Seattle Seahawks. Sokoli has had a strange journey in the NFL. He was a very good player in college playing next to Khalil Mack. Seattle drafted him, and tried to convert to be a center, a position that he never played before. Based on his great agility at 300 pounds, and his absurd strength. Sokoli was mis-cast and ended up being released a year after he was drafted. From the Colts to the Saints and to The Giants roster. Sokoli went back and forth playing on both sides of the football. In the summer of 2018, he appeared to be making real progress with The Giants. Sokoli unfortunately tore his ACL and has been out of pro football for over a year. It’s nice to see a player like him come back from that and  get another shot.

Measurables were a big factor in the Defenders Draft and that extended to the pick of former Arizona Hotshots WR Deion Holliman, who has an absurd 65 inch vertical leap. LB AJ Tarpley from Stanford has good cover skills and can run and hit. He could be a starter on this team. At 6’4 335 pounds, 22 year old Former Oklahoma NT Du’Vonta Lampkin has untapped potential but he had characters issues in college. Lampkin prematurely came out for the NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore, and went undrafted.  Every NFL draft season, there are countless numbers of players who declare early and don’t make into the league. The numbers game is difficult to begin with, but some “unfinished” players have no place to go if the NFL door closes on them.


DC’s draft stood out from the rest of the league’s other seven teams. That’s not to state that it was the best or worst. Much like Dallas and Houston, the Defenders draft had it’s own individual style and personality. The majority of the XFL teams had a specific formula for  the types of players they drafted. The Defenders leaned more towards player upside and measurables, more so than any other team in the league. The offense under Pep Hamilton, Tanner Engstrand and Chris Scelfo, should be very good. Look for the Defenders to play power football and throw the ball down the field. The team has two big strong armed mobile quarterbacks who are built for outdoor football. On defense, it appears to me that DC may be leaning towards playing a 3-4 defense. Defensive Coordinator Jeffrey Fitzgerald has history coaching in both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive systems. One of the coaches he worked under is Chuck Pagano. No shock to see defensive players who spent time with the Chicago Bears this summer on the DC defense. Pagano is running his 3-4 base with the Bears, and there’s no doubt that Fitzgerald leaned on his mentor for some intel on players. Two of the more important players on the entire roster are Rashard Davis and James Vaughters. They were drafted in positions that suggest that they will be elite players in the league. Vaughters as a pass rusher and Davis as a game changer. If DC hits on these two, like they did with their Quarterback, the team will be a serious contender.

Introducing the DC Defenders

YouTube video

The XFL has named their Washington D.C. franchise, the DC Defenders.

“On the shoulders of giants, they stand tall. Unconquerable. Unyielding. Marching ever forward, A force united. One quest. One purpose. One resolve. Seeking glory through grit. Victory through valor. The DC Defenders. Taking their stand. February 2020.”

Under head coach Pep Hamilton, the team will begin play in Audi Field in February 2020.

Pep Hamilton to lead XFL Washington

Pep Hamilton (left) and XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck (right) (Credit Twitter 

Former NFL and college assistant coach Pep Hamilton is the new Head Coach and General Manager of XFL Washington D.C.

Hamilton’s hiring was officially announced by XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck on Thursday, at Audi Field in Washington D.C.

In the past, Luck knew Hamilton through his son, quarterback Andrew Luck, who was coached by Hamilton both at Stanford and later with the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL.

(View the announcement video below)

YouTube video


Pep Hamilton, a Washington D.C. native, recently resigned his position at Michigan. He has plenty of football experience, with eleven seasons coaching in the NFL with the Jets, 49ers, Bears and Colts, and most recently with the 2016 Cleveland Browns.

“I’m excited to join the XFL and lead the team in Washington, a city with which I have a lifelong attachment,” Hamilton stated on Thursday. “I appreciate the confidence Vince McMahon and Oliver Luck have in me, providing an opportunity to be the head coach and placing the football operations of their Washington team in my hands. We plan to put together a terrific, hard-working staff, and a great football team for fans in and around our nation’s capital.”

XFL to announce Washington’s Head Coach on Thursday

Former Michigan assistant head coach and Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is rumored to be the first Head Coach of the Washington D.C. XFL franchise.

The XFL has announced it will reveal the Washington, D.C. franchise’s Head Coach on Thursday.

  • Event: Thursday February 21st at 1:00PM ET. Audi Field, Washington D.C.

The candidate doesn’t seem to be a secret, as the rumor mill has already spit out former Michigan assistant head coach and Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton as the man who will be named to the position.

Hamilton has plenty of football experience, with eleven seasons coaching in the NFL with the Jets, 49ers, Bears and Colts, and most recently with the 2016 Cleveland Browns. Early this month, Hamilton resigned his position at Michigan to “pursue other opportunities.”

Other former NFL players and coaches who are rumored to have been courted for an XFL Head Coach position are former Linebacker and Indiana University of Pennsylvania alum, Jim Haslett, and former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn.

XFL Rumor Mill is Churning

Rumored XFL Head Coaches: Pep Hamilton (left) and Jim Haslett (right).

It has been a busy weekend! Not only did the AAF kickoff their inaugural football season, the XFL was basking in their recent victory of hiring Oklahoma Sooners coach Bob Stoops to a Head Coaching job in Dallas, and still made time to celebrate a one-year countdown until their own kickoff in 2020. However, the XFL excitement didn’t end there, as the rumor mill was churning out more Head Coach candidates.

On Saturday, Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports reported that Pep Hamilton, who recently resigned at Michigan, is now expected to become Head Coach and General Manager of the XFL franchise in Washington, D.C.

Hamilton has plenty of football experience, with eleven seasons coaching in the NFL with the Jets, 49ers, Bears and Colts, and most recently with the 2016 Cleveland Browns.

However, the rumors did not end there.

On Sunday, radio personality Benjamin Allbright alluded to the fact Jim Haslett would likely be signed by the XFL, although he did not indicate which city he would coach for.

Haslett, a Linebacker and former Indiana University of Pennsylvania alum, was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the second round of the 1979 NFL Draft. He played for the Bills, until 1985, and then continued with the New York Jets until 1987. As a coach he held the position of linebacker’s coach for the Cincinnati Bengals, and then Head Coach of the Florida Tuskers (UFL), New Orleans Saints, and St. Louis Rams.

Keep in mind, Allbright was correct when he dished that Bob Stoops would be hired as Head Coach of the Dallas franchise. We fully expect that he has the inside track on this information as well.

XFL Announces Eight Inaugural Home Cities

XFL Announces Eight Inaugural Home Cities
XFL Announces Eight Inaugural Home Cities

The XFL today announced the eight cities and venues its teams will call home when the league launches the weekend of February 8-9, 2020.

  • Dallas – Globe Life Park
  • Houston – TDECU Stadium
  • Los Angeles – StubHub Center
  • New York – MetLife Stadium
  • St. Louis – The Dome at America’s Center
  • Seattle – CenturyLink Field
  • Tampa Bay – Raymond James Stadium
  • Washington, DC – Audi Field

The announcement was made today by XFL Commissioner & CEO Oliver Luck at a press conference held at MetLife Stadium, which included representatives from all eight markets.

“After months of research and consideration, we’re thrilled to announce the cities and venues of the XFL’s eight inaugural teams,” said Luck. “We are committed to being ingrained in the local community and extremely fortunate that our teams will have world-class facilities to call home.”

Beginning today, fans can go to XFL.com to reserve their season tickets, which will provide them with early access to select their seats and purchase season tickets before the general public.

The new XFL will deliver a fan-centric, innovative experience, including fast-paced games and a family-friendly environment, complemented by cross-platform viewing options and real-time fan engagement.

About the XFL

The new XFL will reimagine football for the 21st century when the league kicks off the weekend of February 8-9, 2020.

Football is America’s favorite sport boasting over 85 million fans but the traditional season is just too short. Seeing a tremendous opportunity to fill the void, Vince McMahon, XFL Founder and Chairman announced on January 25, 2018, the launch of a new league, which he is personally funding. McMahon is building the XFL with the same commitment and resolve that he has demonstrated building WWE into a global media and sports entertainment powerhouse.

Delivering authentic, high energy football for the whole family at an affordable price, the XFL will offer fast-paced games with fewer play stoppages and simpler rules. The league will launch with eight teams, 45-man active rosters, and a 10-week regular season schedule, with a postseason consisting of two semifinal playoff games and a championship game. The XFL will also establish a health, wellness and safety program that meets the needs of today’s athletes.

The XFL will embrace the latest on and off-field technology, providing live game coverage, content and real-time engagement across multiple platforms, giving fans greater access than ever before. We will build strong grassroots relationships with local organizations in our Host Cities through social responsibility partnerships, and the XFL will enjoy the support of WWE’s many extraordinary resources and promotional capabilities.

For more information, please log on to XFL.com and follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Media Contact: Stephanie Rudnick – XFL Stephanie.rudnick@xfl.com