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  • Writer's pictureNoah Beausoleil

Kicking Off: An In-Depth Tracking of the UFL's Special Teams Rosters

Updated: Jan 31

The anticipation is over – the UFL Dispersal Draft results are in! Has your team protected your favourite specialists, or are you ready to rally behind a new leg this season? Join me as I deep-dive into each UFL team roster to uncover the hidden strategies and potential game-changers for the upcoming season; This list was last updated on January 31st, 2024

 

Arlington Renegades

Kicker: Taylor Russolino (Protected)

Punter: Marquette King (Protected)

Long Snapper: Antonio Ortiz (Protected)

Returner: RB Leddie Brown (Protected) Other Notable Signings: WR LuJuan Winningham (Protected) Super Draft and FA Recap - The Arlington Renegades have not selected/signed any Special Teams players. The reigning XFL Champions brought back their entire special teams trio, protecting Taylor Russolino, Marquette King, and Antonio Ortiz. Taylor Russolino, their Kicker, was incredibly accurate, going 21/24 (88%) on field goals. He played a crucial role in the Renegades' playoff run, going 5/5 on field goals, including a long of 51 yards.


Marquette King returns for his second year with the team and looks to build upon his 2023 season that saw him average 44.8 yards across 46 punts. Despite leading the XFL in percentage of punts over 50 yards (41.3%), King faced challenges when attempting to pin his opponents deep, with only 7 of his punts landing inside the 20-yard line. Antonio Ortiz will also return for his second year with the team. Retaining these three players guarantees that the Renegades special teams unit is the most experienced in the UFL and I fully expect them to roll into 2024 like a well-oiled machine.


Running Back Leddie Brown is the sole Arlington Returner protected during the dispersal draft and will be the only roster member with any return experience as the team enters 2024. In the 2023 season, he returned 6 kickoffs, averaging 18.5 yards per return. Wide Receiver LuJuan Winningham, also protected, will return as one of the Renegades' top special teams tacklers and a potent threat on the offensive side of the ball.

 

Birmingham Stallions

Kicker: Chris Blewitt (Maulers)

Punter: Colby Wadman (Protected)

Long Snapper:  Ryan Langan (Super Draft - Stallions)


Returners: RB CJ Marable (Protected), WR Deon Cain (Protected) Other Notable Signings: S TJ Carter (Protected)

Super Draft and FA Recap - As anticipated, the Birmingham Stallions made a smart move in the Super Draft by securing the talents of the seasoned Long Snapper, Ryan Langan. Stepping into his third year with the team, Langan looks to improve upon an already remarkable spring football track record. The Birmingham Stallions have not signed any Special Teams players during Free Agency.

The reigning USFL champions face a more challenging situation with the loss of Kicker Brandon Aubrey to the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. The Stallions tackled this issue head-on by selecting Chris Blewitt during the Dispersal Draft. The 29-year-old signed with the Pittsburgh Maulers in week 3 of the 2023 USFL Season, finishing the year with an impressive 27/33 (82%) success rate on field goals and 13/16 (81%) on PATs. It is worth mentioning that despite having an 80% success rate, Blewitt had 2 kicks blocked and attempted longer field goals more frequently than any other Kicker in the league He went 7/10 (70%) on attempts over 50 yards, including his longest of the season, a 59-yarder. Blewitt's powerful leg will also come in handy if the UFL retains the USFL Kickoff rules, where a touchback requires a specialist to kick the ball 80 yards. Who was the only Kickoff Specialist better than Brandon Aubrey last season? Chris Blewitt, who, with 50 kickoffs, averaged 73 yards per attempt and had 64% of his kickoffs land inside the 35-yard line, a remarkable 25% higher than the USFL average. The Stallions recognized the value of Punter Colby Wadman and protected him before the draft. Wadman will return for his third year with the team after being originally drafted by Birmingham in the 2022 USFL Draft. He built upon an impressive rookie season by punting 28 times, averaging 48.8 yards (ranking #1 in the USFL) per punt, with over 53% of his punts travelling over 50 yards. While Wadman faced some challenges with touchbacks, he posted respectable numbers, landing 11 of his punts inside the 20-yard line. Surprisingly, Long Snapper Ryan Langan, a crucial part of the punting and field goal operation, was not protected or selected during the draft. Expect the Stallions to target him during the Super Draft on January 15th.


In the Returner position, the Stallions protected the duo of Deon Cain and CJ Marable, both of whom returned kickoffs for the team in 2023. Runningback Deon Cain was the primary Returner, averaging 25.2 yards per return across 33 kickoffs. He led the USFL in kickoff return touchdowns, scoring 2 in his 8 games played. Wide Receiver CJ Marable had fewer opportunities in the return game, with just 13 returns in 2023. Nevertheless, he made the most of his chances, averaging 24.5 yards per kickoff, with 30% of his returns travelling further than 30 yards. The Protected Safety TJ Carter was a standout tackler on the Stallions' 2023 Coverage Unit, promising to bring back the energy to the Coverage Unit in the upcoming UFL Season.

 

D.C. Defenders

Kicker: Matthew McCrane (Protected), Enrique Yenny Romero (Super Draft - Defenders)

Punter: Paxton Brooks (Protected)

Long Snapper: Trae Berry (Protected)


Returners: WR Brandon Smith (Protected), WR Josh Hammond (Protected), WR Chris Rowland (Super Draft - Stars), WR Pooka Williams (Super Draft - Defenders) Super Draft and FA Recap - During the Super Draft, the DC Defenders brought back Kicker Enrique Yenny Romero, the 29-year-old kicker who signed a LOI with the team after the 2023 XFL Season. Romero's impressive track record includes a stint in the LFA from 2020-2022, where he earned LFA All-Star Honors three times. To bolster their Returner position further, the Defenders secured two Wide Receivers during the draft. First off the board was Chris Rowland who returned 13 kickoffs for the USFL's Philadelphia Stars, averaging a respectable 25 yards per return with 15% of his kickoffs travelling further than 30 yards. Additionally, the team opted to retain Pooka Williams, a standout player for DC who led the XFL in average kickoff return yards. Williams ended the 2023 season returning 21 kickoffs with an impressive average of 26.5 yards per return, and 9 punts with an average of 7.7 yards per return. The DC Defenders have not signed any Special Teams players during Free Agency.


The DC Defenders have taken a similar approach as the aforementioned teams, prioritizing the protection of their core special teams trio. Kicker Matt McCrane finished 2023 with a 13/17 (76.5%) success rate on field goals, with his longest field goal coming from 50 yards out. He's got a huge leg and attempted a remarkable 63-yard game-winner, narrowly missing it wide right by a few inches. While McCrane struggled with the XFL-style kickoffs, accumulating the most Major Touchbacks and Penalties, his potential impact remains significant if the UFL retains the USFL-style kickoff.

Speaking of Kickoffs, the Defenders have protected Punter Paxton Brooks, a 24-year-old kickoff specialist out of the University of Tennessee who was originally signed after the 2023 XFL Season. Although untested in the professional ranks, Brooks displayed promise by averaging 60.5 yards per attempt and achieving a 49% touchback rate on 258 kickoffs. Furthermore, Brooks maintained an average of 42.3 yards per punt over his 4-year career (162 attempts), with 35% of his punts landing inside the 20-yard line. He will now receive snaps from Tight End turned Long Snapper Trae Berry, who has also protected and is set to return for his second year. The Defenders have chosen to protect two receivers, Brandon Smith and Josh Hammond, both of whom contributed as Returners in the 2023 season. Brandon Smith was not the primary Returner for the team he handled 10 kickoffs, averaging 21.8 yards per return. Josh Hammond also had limited opportunities with just 2 punt returns, totaling 25 yards. Anticipating the need for a full-time Returner, DC may pursue one in the upcoming January 15th draft.

 

Houston Roughnecks

Kicker: Luis Aguilar (Super Draft - Stars)

Punter: Hunter Niswander (Protected)

Long Snapper: Logan Klusman (Super Draft - Roughnecks)

Returners: WR Anthony Ratliff-Williams (Gamblers), CB Isaiah Zuber (Gamblers),  WR Justin Hall (Gamblers), WR Isiah Hennie (Maulers)

Other Notable Signings: S Jeremiah Johnson (Gamblers)


Super Draft and FA Recap - The Roughnecks selected the first Kicker of the UFL Super Draft, taking Luis Aguilar in the Third Round. The 2023 USFL All-Star went 25/29 on field goals (86%) for the Philadelphia Stars and tied a professional football record when he made 8 field goals in a single game. The Roughnecks also welcomed back Long Snapper Logan Klusman, selected in the Fifth Round. Entering his second year with the team, he brings stability and reliability to the Long Snapper position. The Houston Roughnecks have not signed any Special Teams players during Free Agency.


The only specialist protected by Houston was Punter Hunter Niswander, who was brought in during week 4 of the 2023 USFL season. Despite only playing in 7 games, Hunter showcased his talent with 27 punts, averaging 46 yards per punt and an impressive 40 net yards per punt. He excelled in both punts over 50 yards (41%), punts landing inside the 20-yard line (41%) and recorded only 2 touchbacks throughout the entire season. We will have to wait until the Super Draft to know who will be joining him in the special teams unit.


The Roughnecks enter the 2024 season with a stacked Returner position, protecting three players and selecting another in the dispersal draft. Wide Receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams returned 16 kickoffs for the Gamblers in 2023, averaging 24.4 yards per return, with 38% of his returns surpassing 30 yards. Cornerback Isaiah Zuber also contributed to the kickoff return game, averaging 24.6 yards per return, with 17% of his returns exceeding 30 yards. Wide Receiver Justin Hall was the primary Punt Returner for the Gamblers last season, accumulating an average of 9.6 yards on 19 returns. Despite some impressive plays, he faced challenges in cleanly fielding the ball and recorded 3 fumbles throughout the season. The splash signing comes in the form of Wide Receiver Isiah Hennie, who proved to be a formidable weapon for the Pittsburgh Maulers in the 2023 USFL season. He racked up 292 yards on 17 punt returns, leading the league with an average of 17.2 yards per return and scored 1 punt return touchdown Safety and special teams ace Jeremiah Johnson was also protected and will return for his third year with Houston.

 

Memphis Showboats

Kicker: Alex Kessman (Protected), Matthew Coghlin (Super Draft - Breakers)

Punter: Brandon Wright (Protected), Matt White (Super Draft - Breakers)

Long Snapper: Turner Bernard (Super Draft - Breakers)

Returners: WR Rashard Davis (Protected), RB Kerrith Whyte (Protected), WR Vinny Papale (Breakers), CB Will Likely (Super Draft - Roughnecks) Other Notable Signings: TE Wes Saxton Jr (Generals)


Super Draft and FA Recap - John DeFilippo, the former NOLA Head Coach, strategically strengthened the Memphis Showboats' Special Teams unit by signing the entire Breakers Special Teams unit. Kicker, Matthew Coghlin, was one of the best kickers available in the Super Draft, going 18/19 on field goals (95%) and was perfect on all 26 of his PATs attempted in 2023. Joining him is Punter Matt White, who averaged 45 yards per punt on 33 punts and had 40% of his punts remain inside the 20-yard line. Established Long Snapper Turner Bernard was also selected In the Ninth Round of the Super Draft and will likely start for the Showboats in 2024. The team also picked up Cornerback Will Likely, who was a star returner for the XFL's Houston Roughnecks. He returned 18 punts for an average of 12.4 yards per return and had 33% of his returns travel for more than 15 yards. The Memphis Showboats have not signed any Special Teams players during Free Agency.


  All but one of the 2023 Special Teams Starters will return this year for the Showboats, with Alex Kessman and Brandon Wright both being protected. Kicker Alex Kessman was brought in to shore up the Showboats kicking in the 2023 USFL Season and delivered, going 22/25 (88%) on field goals and 10/13 (77%) on PATs. After being benched in week 3 of the season, Kessman was brought back and finished the remaining 7 games, going 21/22 (95%) and was perfect on all 4 of his attempts over 50 yards.


Punter Brandon Wright was also protected and will return for his third year with the team. He punted 27 times in 2023, averaging 46 yards per punt with 12 punts (45%) landing inside the 20-yard line. Wright faced challenges when his punts landed inside the 10-yard line, managing to keep only 2/10 from rolling into the end zone for a touchback. Brandon performed comparatively better as the team's Kickoff Specialist, averaging 68 yards over 25 kickoffs with 36% of his kickoffs remaining inside the 35-yard line. Memphis retains two players who contributed in the return game, protecting Rashard Davis and Kerrith Whyte. Wide Receiver Rashard Davis was used sparingly last season, returning 9 kickoffs for an average of 25.2 yards per return and 4 punts for an average of 4.8 yards per return. Running Back Kerrith Whyte returned even less, with only 7 kickoff returns in 2023 but he managed to average 32 yards per return with a long of 57 yards. Wide Receiver and special teams aficionado Vinny Papale will follow former NOLA Head Coach John DeFilippo back to Memphis to rejoin the team that originally drafted him in 2022. While he was a passable Punt Returner, averaging 6.4 yards over 12 returns, his real value comes from his contribution to the Coverage Unit. The Showboats also selected New Jersey Generals Tight End Wes Saxton Jr who was one of the more impressive players on the Generals' Coverage Unit.

 

Michigan Panthers

Kicker: Jake Bates (Protected), Cole Murphy (Super Draft - Panthers)

Punter: Brock Miller (Generals), Kyle Kramer (Super Draft - Panthers)

Long Snapper: Jordan Ober (Generals)

Returner: WR Marcus Simms (Protected), WR Corey Coleman (Stars), WR Terry Wright (Stars)


Super Draft and FA Recap - Michigan retained both of their starting specialists from the 2023 season. Kicker Cole Murphy went 16/21 on field goals (76%) and 16/20 (73%) on PATs in 2023. While he had a comparatively rough 2023 season, his 2022 season was one for the ages and he will be motivated to win back the starting spot during training camp. Punter Kyle Kramer was the second player brought back in the Super Draft. In the 2023 season, he punted 41 times for an average of 45 yards per punt and had 27% of his punts remain inside the 20-yard line. Kramer's proficiency in forcing fair catches was fantastic, with 30% of his punts resulting in no return yards. The Michigan Panthers have not signed any Special Teams players during Free Agency.


  In a rather surprising turn of events, the Michigan Panthers enter 2024 with a completely new special teams unit, protecting Jake Bates while also securing the talents of Brock Miller and Jordan Ober through the Dispersal Draft. Jake Bates, the 23-year-old Kicker, was signed during the free agency period following the 2023 season. He was brought in to compete with Cole Murphy, who was not protected/drafted. This decision raised eyebrows as Bates had solely served as a kickoff specialist in university and had yet to attempt a field goal in a game. His journey in athletics began by kicking balls for the UCA soccer team before transferring to Texas State and subsequently the University of Arkansas. Throughout his college career, Bates averaged an impressive 63 yards per kickoff over 188 attempts. In his most recent season, he achieved a Touchback rate of 86%, successfully landing 64 out of 75 kickoffs in the end zone. Michigan strategically targeted two specialists from the New Jersey Generals in the Dispersal Draft. Punter Brock Miller had an outstanding 2023 season, averaging 43.1 yards on 36 punts. He shined when it came to pinning opponents deep, with 16 (44%) of his punts landing inside the 20-yard line, including 8 within the 10-yard line. Notably, Miller recorded only one touchback throughout the entire season, showcasing his elite directional punting skills. Joining him is Long Snapper Jordan Ober who started all 10 games for New Jersey in 2023.


Wide Receiver Marcus Simms emerged as a late-season breakout for the Panthers in 2023, displaying his worth by returning six kickoffs with an impressive average of 40.5 yards per return in the final two games of the season Michigan also selected two Philadelphia Stars Wide Receivers in the Dispersal Draft. Corey Coleman returned 7 kickoffs averaging 17.9 yards per return, and returned 11 punts for an average of 8.5 yards per return. Terry Wright, a dynamic Returner for the Stars, boasted an average of 31.7 yards per kickoff return on 24 attempts. Notably, 38% of his attempts resulted in kickoff returns exceeding 30 yards, adding a significant threat to the Panthers' special teams arsenal.

 

St. Louis Battlehawks

Kicker: Andre Szmyt (FA Signing), Andrew Mevis (FA Signing)

Punter: Sterling Hofrichter (Protected)

Long Snapper: Alexander Matheson (FA Signing)

Returner: RB Max Borghi (Protected), WR Steven Mitchell (Protected), WR Jahcour Pearson (Sea Dragons), WR Darrius Shepherd (FA Signing) Other Notable Signings: S Dravon Askew-Henry (Super Draft - Generals)


Super Draft and FA Recap - The St. Louis Battlehawks selected Safety Dravon Askew-Henry in the First Round to fortify both their secondary and coverage unit. His great performance for the USFL's New Jersey Generals showcased his worth on Special Teams and the Battlehawks will put him to use limiting opponents returns. During the Free Agency period, the team made several signings. First was Kicker Andre Szmyt, who last played for Syracuse in 2022 and holds the school record as the most accurate kicker. He is also extremely reliable on PATs, making 199 of his 223 attempts (98%). It was also announced that Long Snapper Alexander Matheson had re-signed with the team after a stint with the NFL's LA Rams. This marks Matheson's second consecutive year with the Battlehawks. Wide Receiver Darrius Shepherd is also set to make a comeback after taking an NFL opportunity with the LA Chargers. His exceptional performance in the XFL earned him the title of Special Teams Player of the Year, as he averaged 25 yards per return on 37 kickoffs. The Battlehawks announced they have signed Iowa State Kicker Andrew Mevis on January 26th. He was a Lou Groza Award Semifinalist in 2021 and went 20/23 (87%) on field goals while completing all 32 of his PATs in his last collegiate season. Mevis spent some time with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars but was released following some struggles during the 2022 rookie camp. Interestingly enough, Mevis handled all three kicking responsibilities for Iowa State, which could help him secure a roster spot as an emergency Punter in case of an emergency.


  The Saint Louis Battlehawks only protected their Punter, Sterling Hofrichter, before the Dispersal Draft. He finished the 2023 XFL season punting 36 times, averaging 41 yards per punt and led the league with 5 punts landing inside the 10-yard line. However, they did not protect Kicker Donny Hageman and Long Snapper Alex Matheson was released for a workout opportunity with the NFL's LA Rams.


There were 2 Returners protected by the Battlehawks, Max Borghi and Steven Mitchell. Running Back Max Borghi joined the Battlehawks after being released by the Houston Roughnecks following the 2023 XFL season. He returned 10 kickoffs for a total of 231 yards, averaging 23.1 yards per return. Wide Receiver Steven Mitchell was used sparingly in 2023, returning a single kickoff for 21 yards and 2 punts for a total of 31 yards. The Battlehawks did target Wide Receiver, Jahcour Pearson, who could also be a threat at the Returner position.

 

San Antonio Brahmas

Kicker: Christopher Dunn (Protected), Matt Ammendola (FA Signing), Donald De La Haye Jr. (FA Signing)

Punter: Not Rostered

Long Snapper: Rex Sunahara (FA Signing)


Returner: RB Kalen Ballage (Protected),


Super Draft and FA Recap - The San Antonio Brahmas have signed Kicker Matt Ammendola, who previously committed to the DC Defenders after the 2023 season. He most recently played with the Houston Texans during the 2023 NFL Season. While I believe he has potential, I do think he struggles on longer kicks and he would benefit from a productive UFL season. The team has also announced that they have agreed to terms with Long snapper Rex Sunahara, who had suited up in all 10 games for the Brahmas in 2023 before he signed a contract with the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers. The Brahmas created waves in the specialist community by announcing a significant signing - none other than YouTube sensation Deestroying, aka Donald De La Haye Jr. The former Division 1 Kickoff Specialist boasts an impressive following with over 5 million subscribers on YouTube and is now set to make a mark in the professional football scene as he competes for the starting Kicker position. De La Haye recently showcased his talents in a workout with Nick Novak, where he went 10/12 on field goals with remarkable accuracy under 40 yards and a leg strong enough to make a 60-yard field goal look easy. The signing of Deestroying extends beyond the playing field, potentially introducing millions of fans to the UFL and undoubtedly contributing to significant growth in the San Antonio Brahmas' social media presence. The San Antonio Brahmas have not selected any Special Teams players during the Super Draft.

  The San Antonio Brahmas are heading into 2024 with the smallest contingent of Special Teams players among all the teams in the UFL. They did protect Kicker Christopher Dunn, a 25-year-old graduate from NC State, who was acquired during the free agency period following the 2023 XFL Season. While Dunn faces the challenging task of filling the void left by John Parker Romo, who seized an opportunity in the NFL, I believe he stands a good chance. He finished his 5-year college career with a 96/113 (85%) success rate, going 28/29 in his final season, including his longest kick of the season from 53 yards out. Expect the Brahmas to seek out a Punter who can also serve as a Kickoff Specialist, considering Dunn's lack of college experience in kickoffs.

In the Returner department, Running Back Kalen Ballage was protected before the Dispersal Draft. Although he had a relatively minor impact on special teams, Ballage did return 4 kickoffs for a total of 81 yards. If the Brahmas fail to actively pursue special teams players in the Super Draft, they may find themselves in a position where significant damage control is necessary before the season kicks off.

 

I will keep this list updated to the best of my abilities and a log

of new signings will be tracked as well.


For up-to-date Special Teams news Follow me on Twitter (X) - Between The Goalposts

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