Following last season’s 7-3 record, and boosted by an overall local attendance that topped the defunct XFL, the St. Louis Battlehawks’ 2024 inaugural campaign within the United Football League (UFL) set their “blue and gray-print” into motion with Monday’s reveal of their initial roster for the upcoming campaign.
It included some familiar faces from last spring’s squad as well as some newcomers that are projected to make an immediate impact.
The other seven UFL teams, a result of the recent merger between the XFL and the USFL, also had their initial rosters revealed following the league’s dispersal draft held last Friday.
St. Louis, one of four XFL franchises that fully-survived the UFL blade, will play their season opener the weekend of March 30-31. Pro Football Newsroom’s Stephan Rachuk reported last week that a full UFL schedule is rumored to be released the week of January 15. The team averaged over 35,000 spectators at the Dome at America’s Center last season.
As of this writing, the Battlehawks currently sport a 54-player roster with 23 returnees from last season’s squad. That may seem a little slim at first but consider the acquisition of XFL starters from dissolved teams – primarily Seattle and Vegas – will immediately plug up a lot of 2023 departures. Just from those two squads alone, St. Louis picked up an additional 10 players with XFL full-starter status last Friday.
The merger between the pair of spring football leagues also created a Houston-based combo that aligned players from each respective league’s franchises (XFL’s Roughnecks and USFL’s Gamblers). This resulted in three additional former Houston players that were not retained being acquired by the Battlehawks.
Additional free agents will also be put into play following another dispersal draft on January 15. The Battlehawks will invite 75 players to their training camp in late-February and the final 50-player roster will be set prior to the first game.
Here is an overview of the current Battlehawks’ roster status at select positions.
QUARTERBACK – The loss of A.J. McCarron to the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals last summer was a little bittersweet. Sure, we loved seeing a humble player get a well-deserved shot at the pros. Conversely, the goodbye left a really, massive hole. McCarron’s back-up last season, Nick Tiano, returns to the team and collected a victory in his lone Battlehawks’ start last season – a 21-17 overtime win vs. Vegas in XFL Week 8. The 27-year-old is already accustomed to offensive coordinator Bruce Gradkowski’s schemes, so he seems to be an early pick for the spot. Also in the wings is 2023 roster returnee Manny Wilkens, who was perpetually placed on the inactive list last season, a by-product of the two-QB rule for XFL starting day rosters. The UFL allows for a similar scenario, so Wilkens will move up into the second slot and a third potential gunslinger will be welcomed into February’s camp.
RUNNING BACK – 2023 leading rusher Brian Hill’s exit to seek fortune in the NFL left the door open for a few returnees to make a run at the primary spot this year. Most notable is Metaeo Durant, who was second on the team in both carries and rushing yardage but never made it into the end zone for a unit that only scored four touchdowns from the ground last season (Yep, you read that right!)
With the running game such a questionable priority in the offensive mix last season, it was kind of surprising (and in a good way!) that the Battlehawks claimed former Houston Renegade Max Borghi off waivers last month. In 2023, the 5-10, 196-pounder topped the team with 78 carries for 310 yards and six touchdowns. He could be an immediate game changer, or at least provide a solid diversion to opposing defenses.
RECEIVING – As a whole, the initial roster is stable in this area with wide receiver Hakeem Butler (51 catches, 599 yards, team-leading eight touchdowns) returning with Steven Mitchell (four TDs) and tight end Jake Sutherland (two TDs) to supplement. New acquisitions include former Seattle standouts Jahcour Pearson (670 yards, four TDs) and Blake Jackson (440 yards, 2 TDs). Expect the Battlehawks to find additional help in the next dispersal draft and free agency.
OFFENSIVE LINE – The team made some early strides to improve this area. Returning guards Vadal Alexander and Steven Gonzalez are back in the fold but also in the mix at the position is newly-acquired Jack Snyder from Houston. Center Mike Panasiuk returns for snapping duties with Dohnovan West (acquired from Vegas) making a push for the position. A pair of incoming tackles from XFL franchises (Houston’s Sage Doxtater and Seattle’s Jazston Turnetine) will be looking for starting slots while returnee Juwann Bushwell-Beatty looks to retain.
DEFENSIVE LINE – A few mysteries in this area, as the initial roster only contains three defensive tackles. Returning starter Kevin Adkins seems to be an early lock with former Seattle anchor Antwuan Johnson as a potential line mate. Former Arizona State standout T.J. Pesefea has an outside shot at nose tackle. Again, expect some movements in the dispersal draft.
DEFENSIVE BACKS – This area is in very promising shape after the initial roster reveal. The Battlehawks’ main acquisition was former Vegas linebacker Pita Taumoepenu, who won XFL Defensive Player of the Year honors last season. This is an immediate impact player. Returnee Willie Harvey was tops in tackle assists (34) and second in solo tackles (25) last season for the team. Other top returnees include Travis Feeney (24 solos), Carson Wells (20 solos), and Brandon Sebastian (20 solos). Other notable newcomers include Vegas’ Keylon Kennedy (34 solos) and Seattle’s Qwynnterrio Cole (32 solos).
KICKING – The Battlehawks’ lone returnee in the initial roster is punter Sterling Hofrichter, who had a solid 40-yard average in 36 punts last season. A return to the position is likely. Last season’s place kicker Donny Hageman was not a part of the club after the initial dispersal draft but could be secured with the next draft.
Again, some light will be shed in some areas after next week’s UFL dispersal draft takes place.
Until then, we’ll wait, watch and look forward to what the future brings.
By trade, he is a six-time, regional Emmy Award-winning news videographer/editor for KTVI/KPLR-TV. By hobby, he is a writer for Arch City Media, dating back to February 2014. Emphasis is on featuring and promoting local women's sports, but will cover anything that is not reported by traditional media outlets. Also a contributor to local concert reviews.