The XFL has had a busy off-season. The league has held a rookie draft, a full-scaled player combine, and nine different player showcases across the country, including one earlier this month in Orlando and two this past weekend in San Diego.
The football business of preparing for the 2024 season has continued on for the XFL. But it’s hard to ignore the potential winds of change on the horizon.
The elephant in the room with the XFL, as it pertains to their latest showcase, is the league’s impending merger with the USFL, which could see a resolution arrive soon after the Department of Justice finishes reviewing and potentially approving the two leagues submitted merger paperwork.
The whole situation begs the question. Could this past weekend’s Specialist Showcase in San Diego be the final football activity the league conducts under the XFL umbrella?
After all, the XFL has filed for United Football League trademarks, and the USFL has filed for the National Spring Football League. All of that has come after the two league’s intent to merge became public.
The tea leaves in the Fall are almost readable for the next Spring.
With that in mind, before we embark into uncharted territory. Let’s look into the names of those who participated in San Diego and the value of the specialist showcase.
XFL Specialist Showcase
Like the leadup to the XFL 2023 season, the league has concluded the prospective player evaluation process with a specialist-specific showcase event for free-agent kickers, punters, and long snappers—an exclusive scouting event run by longtime pro kicker and instructor Nick Novak.
“Last year, we saw great success in identifying talent through the specialist showcase,” said Doug Whaley, XFL Senior Vice President, Player Personnel. “Four players we found from this showcase signed NFL contracts following our season. We are excited to partner with Nick and his team again this year to allow our respective coaches and staff to find more elite specialists.”
A year ago, the XFL saw 18 specialists at Novak’s showcase sign contracts with the league. Four of them were eventually signed by NFL teams. Kicker John Parker-Romo (Brahmas-Lions/Bears), long snapper Rex Sunahara (Brahmas-Steelers), veteran punter Brad Wing (Brahmas-Steelers), and punter Daniel Whelan Defenders-Packers). Wing and current Packers punter Daniel Whelan, who made Green Bay’s 53-man roster coming out of camp, have seen NFL regular season action this season.
Other specialists who took part in last year’s showcase were able to stay on the scouting radar and land opportunities as well. Of note, Arizona Wildcats kicker Lucas Havrisik, who was signed off the Cleveland Browns practice squad on Tuesday, to assume placekicking duties for the LA Rams.
XFL 2023 Specialist Showcase
Nick Novak, Founder of Novak Kicking & Consulting and former professional football placekicker, ran his second annual specialist showcase in San Diego, Calif., on October 22, 2023. Here is a full list of all the specialists who participated and a brief overview of some of them.
Seventy-six specialists took part in the XFL’s Showcase this past Sunday in San Diego. 21 Long Snappers and a combination of 55 kickers/punters. Some of whom, like FCS All-American Antonio Zita and Southern U’s Cesar Barajas, tried out at kicker and punter.
Many of the names listed above are familiar to not only followers of college football but also of non-NFL pro leagues.
Specialists like Brian Khoury, Scott Flanick, Austin MacGinnis, and Bailey Giffen have dabbled in the spring pro football universe in the recent past. Some have participated North of the Border in the CFL, like punter Simon Laryea.
One name that looks familiar to long-time NFL fans and is certainly in the name Hall Of Fame is West Florida long snapper/TE Maverick Wolfley. The 6’3, 255-pound specialist has football in his blood.
Maverick Wolfley is the nephew of former Steelers offensive lineman Craig Wolfley and grandson of two-time Super Bowl champion Ray Mansfield. He is the son of former West Virginia standout Dale Wolfley. Maverick tried out for the Steelers earlier this year in an attempt to carry on his great bloodline’s tradition.
There are other young specialists like Wake Forest’s Dom Maggio, who have spent time in the NFL on rosters but have yet to break through to get regular-season action.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are hidden gems like FCS All-American punter Noah Gettman, who is looking for a pro opportunity to shine.
Middle Tennessee State Punter Kyle Ulbrich, who was one of the nation’s top punters and a frequent Ray Guy Award watchlist player, is someone who could be the XFL’s next Daniel Whelan.
Then there’s Ian Berryman, a directional punting specialist, who has fallen off the radar over the last few years. The once highly touted small school standout at Western Carolina was considered a hidden gem by many in the scouting community.
On the kicking side, there are several specialists on this list who come from all walks of football life. Some with more acclaim than others.
NC State kicker Chris Dunn was named the Lou Groza Award winner as the best kicker in college football for the 2022 season. Dunn finished second in the nation in made field goals (24) and field goal percentage (.960). He left N.C. State with school career records of 491 points scored, 97 field goals made, and 200 consecutive extra points made without a single miss in his career.
Dunn’s near-perfect 2022 campaign earned him a look with the Los Angeles Rams as an undrafted free agent. But perhaps the XFL could be the avenue for him to get an extended opportunity to build upon his impressive collegiate ending, where Dunn made a gigantic leap from 2021.
Raw but strong-legged Northwestern State University kicker/punter Eddie Godina is an intriguing prospect. A true diamond in the rough, Godina worked his way to being the No. 1 kicker in the nation while at Trinity Valley Community College in Texas. While there, he knocked through 26 of 30 field goals, converting 87% of attempts.
Troy standout kicker/punter Brooks Buce also falls under the overlooked category. The former Georgia Bulldog transfer had two excellent seasons for the Trojans, connecting on 89 percent of his field goals—the highest percentage in school history. Buce’s background as a punter also helps his stock.
Alternative non-NFL leagues have a good history of producing quality specialists throughout the years. Players like Adam Vinatieri and Younghoe Koo instantly come to mind. The XFL in 2020 has players four years later, like long snappers Christian Kuntz, Nick Moore, and Scott Daly, still going strong in the NFL.
Leagues such as these also provide avenues for veterans who have fallen under the radar. See Brad Wing recently, who has made the journey back, and Nick Folk, who, not too long ago, rebuilt his career after a detour into the AAF.
Hidden gems such as kicker Brandon Aubrey (Birmingham Stallions to Dallas Cowboys) have honed their pro skills to advance in their new profession.
Nick Novak’s tutelage and training of these prospective pro prospects can not be underestimated. The unearthing of Daniel Whelan and his success proves that point. Little do Packers fans know that Whelan also has kicking chops after training with Novak a year ago. The strong-legged Irish-born specialist has a 60-yard field-goal range.
Non-NFL pro football leagues can be a great breeding/proving ground for established college specialists and the ones who are not as polished. The opportunity and avenue to do that could arise in the XFL, USFL, NSFL, or the UFL.
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