A brand new football league made a splash last weekend, as the XFL had their opening weekend of games, and it was … different, to say the least. With new rules that include a 25-second play clock, new kickoff formations, and no more extra point field goal attempts, the league turned the mundane into exciting moments where anything can happen.
Add in the fact that former Murray State cornerback D’Montre Wade plays in the league for the St. Louis Battlehawks and the XFL has a new fan in yours truly.
Wade had a pretty solid career at Murray State and capped it off his senior year earning first-team All-OVC in 2017, first-team All-American, an invite to the Senior Bowl, an invite to the NFL combine, and an OVC leading six interceptions. After Murray State, he joined the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent. He spent all of 2018 as a member of the practice squad for the Chiefs and after the 2019 training camp became a free agent. With his free time, Wade never stopped working on his craft. So, when the XFL was in the early stages and preparing to put together the pool of athletes for the inaugural draft, Wade knew he wanted in.
“My agent told me about it and it looked like a great opportunity in a new league to get some great film out,” Wade said. “It seemed like it was going to be pretty legit and it was a blessing to have it happen to me. It’s a blessing to still be playing.”
The opening weekend of games put all eight teams on display and drew over three million total viewers. Besides the Battlehawks, other teams include the New York Guardians, Tampa Bay Vipers, Seattle Dragons, DC Defenders, Los Angeles Wildcats, Houston Roughnecks, and the Dallas Renegades. With just eight teams, the talent pool didn’t get watered down, which led to some high-quality gameplay and an overall exciting product. Wade’s team won their opener as the only road team to get a win as they defeated the Renegades 15-9. That defensive effort included four tackles by Wade.
“It was a great feeling just to be back out there playing,” Wade said. “With my teammates, the relationships we’ve built since our mini-camp and training camp, it was just great to get back out there. I’m looking forward to this coming week too. It’s going to be a great challenge for us as a team.”
This isn’t the first time the XFL has graced our lives; in fact, the first go-round might have been a tad more gimmicky but was extremely entertaining. I still remember how they replaced a coin flip with a foot race between the two fastest players from each team. The jerseys the players wore didn’t feature their last names either. Instead, they selected their own nicknames to put on the back. Who could ever forget “He Hate Me,” a.k.a. Rod Smart, who, after the XFL, went on to play a few seasons in the NFL.
Similarly, that’s what Wade and many other players in the new XFL are hoping for with this opportunity. They still have dreams of making it to the NFL and playing on the big stage.
“If I can get a call after the season, that’s the goal I’m reaching for but I’m looking forward to what’s going on right now as we take on our second opponent in Houston,” Wade said.
Some of the elements the XFL has within their broadcast that are intriguing include the ability to listen in to the offensive and defensive coordinators at times, the live mic on the field, and the in-game sideline interviews.
All of that is going on within a very fast-paced game.
“The game moves pretty fast with the play clock,” Wade said. “Calls-wise, a lot of people on the defense have mics in their helmets so we get the calls out pretty smoothly, and even when we weren’t getting the calls out we had hand signals. We prepared for that in training camp because we knew what the tempo would be, and just being out there live for the action of the first game, really got a good feel for it.”
“At the end of the day when the ball snaps it’s football,” Wade said.
As for the kickoff rules, at first glance, the formation and setup looks completely wrong, but then you take a look at one play and it sells itself. The kicker lines up at the 30-yard line and is required to kick the ball between the 20-yard line and the end zone of the opponent. Meanwhile, the coverage team lines up on the opponent’s 35-yard line, and the return team, minus the return man, lines up on the 30-yard line. These players are locked in position until the return man makes the catch on the kick. Then they burst into action. There is still a touchback possibility, but if the ball travels into the end zone and is downed, the return team gets the ball at the 35-yard line.
“I play on both kickoff and kickoff return,” Wade said. “That goes pretty fast too. You’ve got people right up on you, but I feel like it’s safer for the players because nobody is getting a real big running start and for fans it’s exciting. It feels like a big play could happen at any time.”
There are plenty more rules and changes that I believe make the XFL game interesting to watch, but you should see for yourself. Games are played this weekend on Saturday at 1 p.m. CST and 4 p.m. CST on ABC and FOX respectively, and on Sunday at 2 p.m. CST on ABC and 5 p.m. CST on FS1. As for the Battlehawks, they are the final game of the week in the late afternoon Sunday slate. I’ll be watching and rooting on Wade and his team.