When looking at a professional football team’s most popular players, one would typically assume it would be the team’s star quarterback, offensive playmaker, or the stud on defense. In most cases, that rings true. But for the St. Louis BattleHawks, two of their most well-liked players on the team came from an unfamiliar source: special teams. Especially in the NFL, the special teamers are typically disliked, as the punter being on the field means their team is giving up possession and kickers are typically disliked because of their inconsistencies and missed kicks. But for St. Louis in their inaugural XFL season, that was not the case whatsoever, as both punter Marquette King and kicker Taylor Russolino became two of the most beloved members of the St. Louis BattleHawks.
Marquette King’s professional football journey began in 2012, as the Oakland Raiders signed him to a one-year deal after King had a tryout with the team. King however would miss the entire 2012 season while being on the injured reserve list. But in his second season in 2013, Raiders punter Shane Lechler signed with the Houston Texans, which led to King becoming the starting punter in Oakland. During that 2013 season, King would lead the NFL in gross yards per punt with 48.9. As far a punter goes, things got only better for King, because in 2014 he set Raiders franchise records and led the league in total punts and total punt yards.
Throughout his tenure in the NFL, King became trademarked for his flashy celebrations and dances that came after his punts. He truly appeared to be the only punter in the NFL to exhibit some sort of personality other than the great Pat McAfee. King punted with the Raiders through the end of the 2017 season and was released by the Raiders in March of 2018 despite being under contract for three more seasons. King then signed with the Denver Broncos on a three-year deal but was released in early October of 2018 due to his placement on injured reserve because of a thigh injury. After not spending 2019 on a football roster, King was selected by the St. Louis BattleHawks in the XFL Supplemental Draft on November 22, 2019.
As for kicker Taylor Russolino, his journey all the way to the BattleHawks was anything but ordinary and clear-cut. Russolino kicked for the Millsaps College football team, an NCAA Division III school from 2007-2010. Russolino’s first kicking gig out of college came with the Marion (OH) Blue Racers, who played in the Continental Indoor Football League, a league that has now not played since 2014. Russolino then kicked in the China Arena Football League with the Shanghai Skywalkers. His journey led him back to the states, where he then kicked near his hometown with the now defunct New Orleans Voodoo of the Arena Football League.
Russolino would also venture into the Canadian Football League with the Montreal Alouettes and had private workouts with the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but nothing came of those opportunities. Russolino was not the original kicker for the BattleHawks either, as they took former South Carolina and AAF kicker Elliott Fry in the XFL Draft. But the Carolina Panthers came calling for Fry and signed him to a futures/reserve contract in late December of 2019. The BattleHawks then signed Russolino and he became their starting kicker.
Both Marquette King and Taylor Russolino became fan favorites rather quickly, due to their friendly social media presence and interactions with fans both on social media, at public BattleHawks events, and at the games themselves. BattleHawks fans even had a tradition every time one of those two booted the ball, as fans would yell “BANG” every time the ball left Russolino’s foot, and “BOOM” every time King unleashed a punt. But not only were both of these gentlemen well liked because of who they were and their personalities; they were both damn good at their jobs.
In the five games played this year before the XFL season was cancelled due to growing coronavirus concerns, Russolino went 9/10 on field goals with a long of 58 yards. His 90% conversion rate was the highest in the XFL of kickers that played in two games or more. For terms of a comparison, the average conversion rate for an NFL kicker is typically in the low to mid 80’s. His only missed kick came in their most recent game against the DC Defenders, in which the ball was nearly snapped over the head of Marquette King (holder) and he barely had any time to get the ball down on the turf before Russolino was able to step into it and shaved the left upright and missed, so you cannot necessarily chalk up that miss as Russolino’s fault. As for Marquette King, in the five games he punted 19 times for 868 total punt yards with an average of 45.7 yards per punt and longest punt of 63 yards. His punt average was the highest in the XFL and was higher than three of his season punt averages while in the NFL.
While King and Russolino took vastly different paths to becoming a part of the St. Louis BattleHawks in 2020, their incredible production in the unfortunate short five game season could lead both men to be playing on Sunday’s this fall. King can still boot the ball like no other and his athleticism could also have value in terms of punt fakes. As for Russolino, his dream of playing in the NFL may not be too far away now, as quality kickers in the NFL seem to come at a premium, as the overall kicking in the league seems to become more inconsistent every season. Russolino was money from short, medium, and long-distance field goals for the BattleHawks, and NFL teams would be chomping at the bit for a guy that can hit a near 60-yarder. Nonetheless, both guys were just outstanding to interact with both in person and on social media and it was truly a blessing to have such an incredible special teams unit in the inaugural BattleHawks season. With the talent both men possess, it is doubtful we see them in a BattleHawks jersey again, as I would imagine some NFL clubs will have quite the interest in their services this upcoming spring/summer. Good luck to both guys and you both are always welcome back in St. Louis anytime.