ST. LOUIS, MO- Coaching staffs from around the nascent XFL, the spring football venture slated to open play in St. Louis and seven other cities in February, are spending this Monday pouring over player film captured at the league's last player showcase, held Saturday at the former Rams Park in Earth City.
More than 140 players were invited to the event, which looked like what football fans might think of when they hear the word "combine", except in this version, the players competed against eachother in some drills in addition to some of the standard agility tests.
St. Louis had the largest roster of invitees, which officials attribute to a central location in the Midwest that is easier to drive to than other league sites. League Commissioner Oliver Luck said candidly, participants at showcase events, which included recognizable names like RB Trent Richardson and QB Connor Cook, would form the bottom half of the league talent pool, with the top half coming from NFL roster cuts in September.
Richardson, who was a 2012 first round draft pick for the Browns before being traded to Indianapolis and later seeing the field in the CFL and the just recently folded Alliance of American Football team in Birmingham, was clad in Crimson Tide shorts and an AAF skull cap. He just turned 29, and arrived in St. Louis after celebrating his birthday in Puerto Rico. He knows his time is running short, and that any opportunity is important. "I just love peace and I love happiness, and that means being on the field," Richardson said, when asked if he had any potential preference if he lands in the XFL.
Cook was a fourth round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2016, and also spent part of last season on the practice squads for the Carolina Panthers and the Cincinnati Bengals, where Jonathan Hayes, St. Louis' XFL Head Coach, was on staff as Tight Ends Coach.
The biggest thing many of the attendees without the resumes of players like Cook and Richardson got out of the showcase? Their performance on film, which can be shared, and shared, and shared.
That was an important takeaway in the process for former McCluer North/Mizzou DE Jordan Harold, who went viral in May when he was outside the Panthers' stadium holding a sign saying he'd rush the passer for chicken wings. Harold said he thought his performance here was good and that now he's waiting to see what comes of it.
A former Mizzou teammate, linebacker Brandon Lee, was also happy about the chance to get film. "It's hard to get in, but it's even harder to stay in," Lee said of what he's learned about pursuing the NFL dream from other Missouri football alums who now find themselves just like him, trying to potentially catch on in the XFL.
Lee, who interned in college under former Missouri Quarterback Kent Skornia at Krilogy, a Creve Coeur wealth management firm, graduated early and is already halfway to earning his MBA. Whatever happens with his on-field pursuits, Lee says the experience has reinforced his decision to come to Missouri, first under Gary Pinkel, and finishing with Barry Odom, who often talks with recruits about how a college choice isn't just a four-year decision, but a 40 year decision.
"Yeah, they're preparing you to go to the NFL, but it doesn't always work out that way."
NEWS AND NOTES
- The league draft will be held in mid-October, with Luck saying a priority is being put on how to fairly divvy up QB and offensive line talent. Player contracts will allow for those who get NFL opportunities to leave until XFL rosters are set.
- Eight teams will take the field next February, but the league will also form a roster for a "ninth team", which will supply players to league teams in need of injury replacements. It will be based in Dallas.
- Right or wrong, one reason often cited in the failure of previous leagues, including the AAF, is because they failed to find a way to partner with the NFL. Luck tells FOX2 that he doesn't see the need for a formal relationship in order for the XFL to succeed, noting that NFL staff have observed some of the XFL's training sessions where rule book innovations to back up the new league's "less stall, more ball" mantra are being tested.
- Luck says he knows what teams will be called, but isn't ready for an announcement. Hayes was insistent that he did not yet know.
- There is nothing official, but Hayes indicated that the franchise would train out of the Earth City complex, now a Lou Fusz youth soccer training center.
- Hayes has been busy since being named as a head coach for the first time. He's also witnessed the launch of his son's NBA career. Jaxson Hayes, a freshman at the University of Texas, was selected eighth overall by the Atlanta Hawks in last month's draft and traded to the New Orleans Pelicans. "I'm very proud of my son, who has represented himself in a great manner," Jonathan Hayes said, crediting his wife Kristi. Jaxson Hayes was just named to the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League's second team.