DC Defenders

Coach Pep Hamilton's culture of accountability has DC Defenders off to hot start

Coach Pep Hamilton's culture of accountability has DC Defenders off to hot start

After a 2-0 start, the DC Defenders are the hottest team in the XFL and head coach Pep Hamilton's no-nonsense approach is one of the main reasons.

The former NFL coordinator preaches the importance of accountability and leads by example. On Tuesday, Hamilton was seen running side by side with his team post-practice.

“We are a team. Everybody will be held to a certain standard," Hamilton said. "Accountability is the foundation of teamwork. A lack of focus at times is on me, it’s on the coach. We have to come out here everyday and understand that every play can be the difference in a game.“

Quarterback Cardale Jones describes the culture Hamilton is building within the locker room as “a tough one, one that is uncomfortable. A tough hardnose blue collar culture.”  

Seeing his coach run with the team, Jones believes, sends a clear message: “We will be held accountable for our actions and everything matters. That's why we run extra after practice. We can’t get complacent as a team.”

The former Ohio State quarterback has not only become one of the faces, if not the face, of the XFL but also a leader on the Defenders, according to Hamilton.

“He’s making plays on gameday. He’s helping the team win, and the guys recognize he’s ultimately going to play a major factor into whether we win or lose a game, and he’s done his job up to this point,” Hamilton said.

Despite the hype surrounding his name, Jones humbly describes himself as “a player trying to get better each and every week.”

This week, the Defenders are aiming to go 3-0 as they head across the country for their first road game against the 0-2 Los Angeles Wildcats on Sunday. LA's record doesn't reflect the kind of team Hamilton is preparing to go up against.

“We are getting ready to play a really good LA Wildcats team," he said. "Their record is not indicative in the leadership they have in their head coach and/or in the players they have on their team. They have a really good team.”

Jones continued, “We have to be able to run the football. We have to continue to challenge ourselves and honor our technique. Doing the little things right.”

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How XFL's DC Defenders coach Pep Hamilton is working from home during coronavirus pause

How XFL's DC Defenders coach Pep Hamilton is working from home during coronavirus pause

The DC Defenders had a perfect 3-0 home record with eyes set on winning the championship when the COVID-19 coronavirus put their season on hold. 

But the eventual reality we are all too familiar with finally came: Season canceled.

Defenders coach Pep Hamilton said it wasn’t just missing out on a title that disappointed him, but for his players that were hoping to be picked up by an NFL team. 

A few did find NFL homes. For the others, it’s about staying in football shape.  Hamilton stresses to his players they never know when the call could come, so they must be ready and a good routine is key.   

“We help them structure their weeks and their days,” Hamilton said.  

But with no access to a full gym, the training staff has to get creative so that work can be done from home. They’ve given Defenders players total body workouts, manual resistance, high-repetition work.  Every detail matters.  

Hamilton said when the coronavirus pandemic began he talked to his players about the importance of staying together and focusing on football, to stay in the moment amidst all the craze.  

Many moments have come since then. The XFL says it plans to come back for 2021, but of course Hamilton understands it’s more than that.  

“The biggest challenge is the uncertainty of when we get back to normalcy in our society and everybody be able to get back to work and the kids will be able to get back to school,” Hamilton said.   

He is plenty busy right now. His three kids are in grade school and the educating is being done at home now.  

“My wife and I, we’re home-schooling the kids and I teach PE and I’m the history teacher,” Hamilton said.   

Wait, PE we get. But history? What history is that?  

“Recent history, my history,” Hamilton said. “A lot of DC history, a lot of Howard history.” 

Hamilton played quarterback at Howard, of course, and it’s where his coaching career began before heading to the NFL as an assistant coach for the Jets, 49ers, Bears, Colts, and Browns. He also spent time at Stanford and Michigan (with Redskins new offensive coordinator Scott Turner) before taking on his first head coaching job with the Defenders.  

Hamilton’s role as a full-time home-schooling dad is relatively new. 

“I hadn’t had a lot of time to spend with my kids during football season,” Hamilton said. “Over the years, I’ve typically left to go to work before they get up and I don’t get back home until they are sound asleep. So they tell me that I am like Major Payne around the household.” 

It’s a joke, of course, but the reality is we don’t know when we can go back to work.  What we do know is that when the time comes, you’ll no longer have to drag your kids out of bed, or dread setting your alarm for the office, or want to skip that workout. Perspective is powerful. And while Hamilton says his kids would still prefer to sleep past noon, that only happens a few days a week their household. 

“It’s our goal to keep some structure in their lives to create a routine that is not stressful for the kids and our family,” Hamilton said. “Everyone is carrying a bit more stress right now just because of the harsh transition in our lifestyle and so we’ve found ways to incorporate our family time with the structured time that we feel like will allow our kids to enjoy their lives.” 

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Tight end Khari Lee becomes first DC Defenders player to sign with an NFL team

Tight end Khari Lee becomes first DC Defenders player to sign with an NFL team

Former DC Defenders tight end Khari Lee has a new home.

The 28-year-old has agreed to a one-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons, the club announced on Wednesday.

As a member of the Defenders, Lee started all five games. He totaled just eight receptions for 91 yards on the season, with two of his catches resulting in touchdowns.

The tight end was on the receiving end of the Defenders' first offensive touchdown in franchise history, a 39-yard pass flea-flicker from Cardale Jones. The Defenders would go on to win their inaugural contest against the Seattle Dragons, 31-19.

This is not Lee's first NFL stint; he's spent time with Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills. He's played in 34 career games and has two receptions for 12 yards on his career.

Lee is the first member of the Defenders to sign an NFL contract.

The XFL was forced to cancel the remainder of their season due to the coronavirus pandemic, ending the relaunched league just five weeks in. However, several former XFL players have since signed contracts with NFL teams, and that number keeps growing.

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