Luke W. Henderson, Guest Writer
After a painful breakup between the city of St. Louis and Rams football, the city will soon host a new greatest show on turf. The Xtreme Football League, started by Vince McMahon in 2001 for its first iteration, will be revived in 2020 with hopes of seizing those audiences dissatisfied with the National Anthem protests started by Colin Kapernick in 2016.
St. Louis was fortunate to be chosen to host one of the eight news teams: the St. Louis BattleHawks who will be coached by former Cincinnati Bengals tight end coach Jonathan Hayes. Hayes has coached two pro-bowl tight ends, Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham, and won a BCS national championship as the tight end coach for the University of Oklahoma.
This past week, the league hosted its first draft picking from a pool of 1,000 players full of former college greats and NFL talent. The XFL had a very unique draft process where the process was divided into five phases: skill players (quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end), offensive line, defensive front seven, defensive backfield, and then an open draft for the remaining players. Each team would have their name drawn and then would choose which draft position they wanted in each phase, making the draft order different for each one. By doing this, the league hoped to avoid having one team unfairly get all of the great players and making an unbalanced play. They also used a snake format, where the team with the No. 1 pick then has the No. 8 pick in the next round, in order to allow more teams to get quality players.
The St. Louis BattleHawks chose the No. 1 pick of the open position category which they used on South Carolina kicker Elliot Fry, the second pick of the defensive front seven-phase, the third spot for the offensive line phase, the sixth spot of the skill players phase and the seventh pick for the defensive backfield phase.
Former Ole Miss Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu was allocated to the BattleHawks. During his one season as a starter for Ole Miss, he threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 19 touchdowns making him 2nd in the SEC that year behind Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, while also rushing for 342 yards and 6 touchdowns. Before that, Ta’amu was the starter at the New Mexico Military Institute where he threw over 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns his sophomore year. Unlike the other quarterbacks allocated, Ta’amu has not had any experience playing at the professional level. He was signed by the Houston Texans after graduating but was eventually dropped by the team.
With their first pick in the skill position, they chose running back Christine Michael. During his tenure at Texas A&M, Michael was awarded Southeastern Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year for his 844-yard season. He was a part of the team’s electric 2012 season where they defeated Alabama, and QB Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy. He was drafted in the second round by the Seattle Seahawks, where he played third-string for their Super Bowl win in 2013, and for their second Super Bowl appearance in 2014. After that year, he was released and played for various teams ending his NFL career with 1,089 total yards on 256 carries, averaging around four yards per carrying. During his draft year, teams were concerned about his injuries and his limited abilities as a pass blocker and receiver.
Most exciting for Missouri football fans was reuniting Mizzou wide receivers L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas, who were both a part of Mizzou’s SEC East Championship in 2013. Both had incredible senior years with Washington breaking 1,000 yards and Lucas gaining over 600. The number of receivers picked by the BattleHawks compared to running backs (they only chose two) suggests that this offense is going to primarily focus on throwing the ball.
The team also gained some playmakers and ballhawks on defense most notable being West Virginia’s Kenny Robinson and James Madison University’s Andrew Ankrah. Robinson led the Big 12 in interceptions returned for touchdowns his freshman year and had a career 123 tackles. Ankrah obtained an astounding 26 sacks before graduating and was the Football Championship Subdivision Athletic Director’s Association Defensive Player of the Year his senior year. The team also obtained cornerback Trovon Reed whose brief stint on the active roster of the Los Angeles Chargers in 2016 saw him get two interceptions and 14 combined tackles.
The BattleHawks certainly seem to have acquired the tools to be a successful team in the new XFL, and perhaps they can help heal the football wound left by Stan Kroenke and the Rams. St. Louis should look forward to seeing this talented team take the field in February and possibly having a new greatest show on turf.
The full roster can be found at https://www.xfl.com/en-US/teams/st-louis.