So football’s still happening, if you’re into that kind of thing. The week after a legendary Super Bowl, Vince McMahon’s not-an-acronym-it’s-just-three-letters-as-the-name XFL started up, after having drafted players in October and having published some rules changes to differentiate it from the NFL. To a lot of people’s surprise, it was pretty good! It’s already outpaced the entire AAF season in ticket sales, has some legit players and coaching, and some of the new rules have made for a fun, unique game. And, the reason you’re really here, there are a few Tar Heels being major parts of this fledgling league. Let’s recap what they did:
Austin Proehl (WR), Seattle Dragons
Austin Proehl had a banner day, there’s no other way to say it. Seattle lost 19-31 to the DC Defenders, but Proehl was a bright spot, immediately staking a claim to be the team’s primary receiving target. The former 7th-round NFL draft pick started his day by catching the XFL’s first touchdown by shaking off a linebacker from the slot, an ability us UNC fans got used to seeing from him:
He followed that up with another touchdown reception where he showed off his after-catch ability to destroy two pursuit angles and run about 40 yards downfield for the score.
All in all, Proehl led the Dragons in targets (10), receptions (5), and receiving yards (88) in the XFL’s first game, and now is third in the entire league in receiving yards. He’ll be a guy to watch as one of the league’s headliners as the season continues. There are a few guys early that just look like they belong at a higher level, and Proehl just might be one of them. The Patriots jokes have already begun, I assure you.
Elijah Hood (RB), Los Angeles Wildcats
Hood also saw a ton of usage in his first game in the XFL, though he wasn’t as successful as Proehl. As the Wildcats’ feature back, especially on early downs, Hood spent a lot of his day running into brick walls as Los Angeles couldn’t get much of anything going against the Houston Roughnecks (excuse me for a second while I collapse laughing), and finished with a line of 12 carries for 43 yards at a 3.6 YPC clip. Bleh. He recorded a long of 13, which was pretty exciting, and also did this, so it’s clear he hasn’t lost the talent so much as this game was just a team offensive failure without quarterback Josh Johnson:
Johnson returns next week, so Hood should have more space to operate, and hopefully ability to eat like he’s able to.
Des Lawrence (CB), DC Defenders
Lawrence, the former standout defensive back for the Heels’ 2015 and 2016 squads, got some eyes on him as well, thanks to this stellar breakup:
It was one of two on the day for Lawrence, who added a TFL and 3 solo tackles to his game as he showed his physicality and coverage ability. He’ll be fun to follow as well; the Defenders got their hands on a lot of balls Saturday and he could end up being an integral part to a shutdown defensive backfield.
Marquise Williams is the fourth Heel in the XFL, but he was drafted in the 10th round as a backup quarterback for the New York Guardians and thus didn’t see the field. Should Matt McGloin need to come off for any reason, though, we know that the Guardians are in good hands.
Personally, I’m fascinated to see how this league’s season unfolds, and if it can hold an audience, have some planning, and generally do all the things the people behind the AAF seemingly just forgot about. But most exciting of all is that there are at least two, maybe 3 Heels who could end up being legit stars in this league, and that’ll be fun as heck to root for. Keep coming to Tar Heel Blog for further updates on our alumni playing football in the spring!