Written by Jake Ellenbogen
The long wait is over for the St. Louis football faithful. They watched their beloved St. Louis Rams head back to their original home of sunny Los Angeles, California not even five years ago. The football that used to be played in the Edward Jones Dome had ceased and it became a lonely venue. Now, the BattleHawks and the XFL have arrived to bring the sport back to the beloved football fans of St. Louis, Missouri. That Edward Jones Dome is now widely regarded as “The Dome” at America’s Center. That dome will be hosting the home opener versus the New York Guardians on February 23rd. The BattleHawks will kick off their inaugural season in Dallas at the start of week one. However, more importantly, the BattleHawks’ birth means football once again is back in St. Louis.
The team is headlined by rich NFL experience and AAF experience across it’s coaching staff. The Head coach and general manager for St. Louis is Jonathan Hayes, a former tight ends coach in the NFL that worked from 2003-to-2018 before coming over to the brand new league. Hayes brings along a coaching staff with plenty of NFL experience.
Chuck Long, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach played in the NFL for the Lions, Rams and worked in college for Iowa, Oklahoma, San Diego State and Kansas where he last coached back in 2011. Brian Braswell is the offensive line coach who follows Hayes over to the XFL after the two worked together with the Bengals. Running backs coach Reggie Davis spent time both playing and coaching in the NFL. Wide receivers coach Az-Zahir Hakim is a name many St. Louis fans will remember from his time playing in the dome with the Greatest Show on Turf, Hakim last coached in the AAF with Mike Martz’ San Diego Fleet.
The former Minnesota quality control coordinator Nick Siciliano will reprise that role on top of his new role as tight ends coach for the BattleHawks. Defensive coordinator Jay Hayes is the brother of head coach Jonathan Hayes as the two previously coached together back in Cincinnati. The co-defensive coordinator will be Matt Raich who coached 16 years in the NFL for four different teams. The BattleHawks round out the coaching staff with defensive backs coach Tim Lewis who was last seen as the AAF’s Birmingham Iron head coach and former NFL safety Chris Crocker who last coached the AAF’s Atlanta Legends will be the defensive backs assistant coach.
The BattleHawks have quite the fanbase already with the biggest social media following of any XFL team. They also have quite the 52-man roster to boot. While Vegas odds seem to believe this is a four-win team that will not have a chance of winning, the roster says otherwise. They are headlined by the Throwin’ Samoan quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, Super Bowl champion running back Christine Michael, newly-acquired wide receiver Keith Mumphrey, a pair of local former Missouri Tigers receiver L’Damian Washington, tight end Marcus Lucas, speedy receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El and unprecedented NFL Draft prospect rookie safety Kenny Robinson.
Jordan Ta’amu is the former starting quarterback for Ole Miss who is someone that can make plays with both his legs and his arm. With his overall arm talent, he figures to be a big hit in this league as a potential superstar. Ta’amu was one of the top quarterbacks of last year’s draft to not get a true chance in the NFL. He was brought onto the Houston Texans roster in the preseason but was released with no practice squad placement. Shortly after though, Ta’amu was approached by the XFL and was selected by the St. Louis BattleHawks as the first pick in franchise history. Ta’amu is the only quarterback in the XFL that had no NFL, CFL or AAF regular-season experience under his belt. Even so, he beat out NFL quarterback Taylor Heinicke, Brogan Roback and Nick Fitzgerald for the starting job. Ta’amu figures to fit like a glove in offensive coordinator Chuck Long’s air raid offense.
Christine Michael was the first non-quarterback pick made by the BattleHawks. The 29-year-old is a former Texas A&M star running back that ended up being drafted as high as 62nd-overall in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. His stint was a little short but not short enough to win a Super Bowl in Seattle. He bounced around from the Cowboys and Redskins before landing back with the Seahawks. Shortly after that Michael flamed out in the NFL but the 5-foot-10 and 220-pounder figures to be one of the best running backs in the XFL. Michael has some redemption to do but there is a reason he was once considered one of the best running backs prospects in the country. All of the traits are there and Michael figures to be a big part of talented BattleHawks offense.
Keith Mumphrey was a star wideout at Michigan State for Mark Dantonio’s team. He went in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft to the Houston Texans. Mumphrey’s NFL career was cut short due to allegations of sexual misconduct from his college days. The Houston Texans waived him but Mumphrey cleared everything up with the case and was cleared. The next year, the Dallas Renegades drafted him in the Supplemental Draft. Dallas subsequently traded him to the BattleHawks for former Angelo State linebacker Markus Jones. Mumphrey figures to wipe the slate clean and become a potential XFL star catching passes thrown by Ta’amu.
L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas played their college ball together at Missouri. The two former Tigers are expected to have a serious role in the BattleHawks offense. Washington bounced around the NFL, CFL and AAF before being drafted in the fourth round of the XFL draft while Lucas bounced around 10 different teams in the NFL before being drafted in the sixth round of the XFL draft. Both men are 28 and 27 years old respectively and are listed on the official team site as the starting receiver and tight end.
De’Mornay Pierson-El is a 24-year old speedster wide receiver that is electric and can be used in multiple ways on the football field. Pierson-El formerly played for the Nebraska Cornhuskers in college before going undrafted and bouncing from the NFL, CFL, the AAF and then the NFL once again. Pierson-El was on the Oakland Raiders practice squad the month before he signed his official XFL contract. Pierson-El is listed as the starting slot receiver for the BattleHawks and with the offensive scheme and the creative rules, one can expect Pierson-El to potentially break open games. The BattleHawks knew they had to scoop up his services which is why they drafted him in the third round of the XFL draft.
Kenny Robinson is arguably the most interesting story of the entire league. Robinson is a former first-team All-Big 12 conference safety out of West Virginia that was drafted 39th-overall in the XFL defensive backs draft. Robinson is an incredibly interesting story and a potential trailblazer himself because he is leaving behind NCAA eligibility to take his talents to the XFL before pursuing the NFL. Robinson was academically dismissed from West Virginia which left him in an interesting predicament. Luckily for Robinson, the XFL was set to launch in 2020 and they were interested in his services. The 21-year-old former Mountaineer decided not transfer to another college but play in the XFL while forgoing the whole NFL Draft pre-draft process as well. Robinson is a big safety that has a unique blend of size and speed. The 6-foot-2 safety is listed as the starting free safety for the BattleHawks and is already being billed as one of the team’s stars by the franchise’s social media account. If Robinson ends up panning out he could spark a movement of players leaving high school to go to the XFL and being compensated instead of playing in the NCAA as an amateur student-athlete.
While those are the notables of the roster, you cannot forget about the guys up front and in the trenches. Former Iowa State 25-year-old offensive tackle Jake Campos is set to protect the blindside of Ta’amu. Former Vanderbilt 23-year-old offensive guard Bruno Reagan is listed as the left guard. Former 30-year-old NFL veteran Brian Folkerts will man the center position. Former Texas 25-year-old Kent Perkins will man the right guard position. Wrapping up an offensive line that has plenty of youth with a mixture of experience, is right tackle Matt McCants who is 30-years-old and has had years of NFL football on his resume.
The offense figures to be the highlight of the team but the 4-2-5 defense coached by Jay Hayes will have NFL experience on the defensive line out of former third-round 2014 NFL Draft pick Will Clarke, former Steeler Casey Sayles, former Bucaneer Channing Ward and former Redskin Andrew Ankrah. Former NFL veterans Terrence Garvin and Dexter McCoil make up the linebackers. In the back end, the aforementioned safety Kenny Robinson mans the free safety spot, former Murray State, Kansas City Chief and Senior Bowl cornerback D’Montre Wade, Undrafted Youngstown State NFL veteran David Rivers and former NFL and AAF’s Darius Hillary round out the starting cornerbacks. Lastly, the initial NFL stud safety Will Hill makes his return to football and starts at strong safety.
On the special teams unit, the BattleHawks have a superstar punter in former NFL All-Pro punter Marquette King. Taylor Russolino is the kicker who has quite the feel-good story coming from Millsaps College and making Youtube videos to get an opportunity from a professional football team. The team’s long snapper from Oregon Tanner Carew was one of the best long snappers to enter the NFL Draft in a decade. It’s a fun unit which is capped off by aforementioned return men De’Mornay Pierson-El and Keith Mumphrey.
The St. Louis BattleHawks won’t have an easy path to victory but to think this team is winning four games and being one of the worst franchises in the league would be selling this team short. While this team doesn’t have Bob Stoops at head coach, it’s focused on putting together a young coaching staff that has yet to truly write its own story. The player personnel that makes up this team is a perfect example of what this team is meant to be. The BattleHawks embrace an underdog mentality as a team that is sneaky with the youth movement and has some low key experience that could bode well for them down the road. Just because the odds don’t appear in their favor, doesn’t mean the BattleHawks will give into that. The BattleHawks kick off their season this weekend and they are cleared to engage. Missouri has already hauled in the most recent Stanley Cup and Super Bowl championships, the BattleHawks will be looking to add an XFL title to that list this season.