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St. Louis' XFL team announces coach

Former NFL player and coach Jonathan Hayes, speaks to media on Thursday, April 18, 2019, shortly after being announced as the coach of St. Louis' XFL league team at The Dome at America's Center in downtown St. Louis. (Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com)

Jonathan Hayes, the coach and general manager of the St. Louis BattleHawks of the XFL, is as excited as anybody about the league’s draft, which is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

But his emotion is tempered by his responsibilities.

“I’m excited, knowing that in a few days we’ll have players on the roster,” he said. “It’s the next step in playing football, and that’s exciting for me and for the whole organization. But I’ve been through drafts before — this will be my 17th as a coach — and the key is trying to stay on an even keel. Over those two days, there are going to be ups and downs, so it’s important to keep your focus.”

The BattleHawks are one of eight teams in the XFL. The others: the Washington D.C. Defenders, the Houston Roughnecks, the New York Guardians, the Dallas Renegades, the Tampa Bay Vipers, the Seattle Dragons and the Los Angeles Wildcats.

The league begins play Feb. 8, just after the NFL season wraps up, and St. Louis will play its home games at The Dome at America’s Center. The 10-week season, with no byes, will run through April 12. There will be playoff games on April 18 and 19, with those winners advancing to the championship game April 26.

The XFL is run by Vince McMahon and Alpha Entertainment LLC and will be televised on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, Fox, FS1 and FS2.

The draft will be run via teleconference call with results released through the league’s various social media channels. This draft will be a bit different from the NFL drafts that Hayes took part in and monitored as a longtime assistant coach with the Cincinnati Bengals. In the XFL, each of the eight teams will first be assigned a quarterback. Then the draft will begin with 10 selections each in four specific player categories:

• Skill players, which includes quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends.

• Offensive line, which includes tackles, guards and centers.

• Defensive front seven, which includes defensive line and linebackers.

• Defensive backfield, which includes cornerbacks and safeties.

After that, an open draft will follow for teams to select their remaining players, including kickers, punters and long snappers. Teams will have 90 seconds to make a selection and the draft will continue until each squad fills a 71-player roster.

The league will use a “snake” format, which means the selection order reverses in each round.

St. Louis will have the first pick in the open draft phase and will choose second at defensive front seven, third at offensive line, sixth at skill players and seventh at defensive backfield.

The league has a draft pool of about 1,000 players.

“It’s really hard to make a 53-man NFL roster,” XFL commissioner Oliver Luck told USA Today. “There’s 10,000 Division I players, not to mention Division II and Division III. The competition for a roster spot is incredibly intense. That’s one reason, along with the incredible physicality, that careers are so short.”

The XFL made former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Landry Jones the first player signed. Many figure the ex-Oklahoma Sooner will end up with his former college coach, Bob Stoops, and the Dallas Renegades.

Some other notable players expected to compete in the XFL are former Mizzou defensive end Kony Ealy, quarterbacks Connor Cook and Zach Mettenberg, wide receivers Ryan Broyles, Jacoby Ford and Sammie Coates and running backs Trent Richardson, Christine Michael, Jonas Gray and Matt Jones.

A quick glance at the XFL draft list found a number of former Missouri Tigers in the mix, including defensive back Aarion Penton (CBC), linebackers Eric Beisel (Summit) and Brandon Lee, receivers L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas, running back Kendial Lawrence and defensive linemen Josh Augusta, Marcell Frazier and Jacquies Smith.

Some other notables include former Oklahoma wideout Durron Neal (De Smet) and Missouri State tight end Clay Harbor.

“It’s going to be a fun couple of days,” said Hayes, a former NFL tight end for the Chiefs and Steelers who coached the Cincinnati tight ends under head coach Marvin Lewis from 2003-18. “We’ve been working hard, but it’s fun work because, as football guys, this is what we do and what we’ve been doing for years.

“Our goal is to add as many quality football players as possible. You want guys who fit your style, obviously, but at least some of that style will be determined by the type of players we get in this draft. Bottom line, we want to build a team that’s tough and physical on both sides of the ball.”

St. Louisan Kurt Hunzeker, who most recently worked as vice president of marketing strategy research for minor league baseball, is the president of the BattleHawks. He’s spent much of the fall getting feedback at area high school football games and will end up at nearly 60 such contests this fall.

“As the first modern pro football team born in St. Louis, it’s important to us to be part of the community,” Hunzeker said. “I think people are getting excited about the BattleHawks and the XFL, and we expect that excitement to grow as we get closer to February. With each step in the process, from revealing the new logo to last week announcing the season-ticket process to this week’s draft, it’s becoming more and more real, and that’s exciting.

“I’m focused on the business and marketing side and leaving the football to Coach Hayes and his staff, but I know we’re all excited knowing that in the next few days we’re going to have BattleHawk players to work with.

“We know February will be here before we know it.”

Twitter users react to the announcement of the team name