DC Defenders

DC Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton finds XFL play-calling difficult while being mic'd up

DC Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton finds XFL play-calling difficult while being mic'd up

One of the more intriguing factors of the newly relaunched XFL is the unparalleled access viewers get throughout the course of the game.

During the league's opening weekend, both head coaches were mic'd up throughout the entire game. What that meant were viewers could hear each coach's play-call as it was being told to the quarterback.

While this feature is appreciated by the millions of viewers that watched the XFL this weekend, it can put both teams at a disadvantage. Opposing teams can simply listen to the broadcast, hear the play call is, then relay that message to their defense. And it's causing one head coach to lose sleep.

"I've been up overnight trying to change some of the calls," DC Defenders' head coach Pep Hamilton told The Sports Junkies on Monday. "I think everybody in D.C. knows by know that 'even' is [running] to the right and 'odd' is to the left. So 3.3 million people know whether we're running to the right or running to the left."

Entering the game, Hamilton knew the mic'd up access would play a factor. But the Defenders head coach did not realize how much of it would be shown until he watched a replay of the live broadcast the next day.

"We knew that would be a factor, but not until I watched the broadcast late [Sunday] night where I said, 'Oh, man. We got to do something different,'" Hamilton said.

While Hamilton is tasked with finding a new way of communicating without giving away the play call, he has no issues with the amount of access viewers are getting. The head coach is fully buying into the process.

"But you know, it's part of it. No issues," Hamilton said. "We'll keep them guessing. I'm thinking this week, if we say 'even' or anything, that may be an automatic vertical pass or something. We have to keep them honest."

Having the coaches mic'd up was just one example of the new broadcast features the XFL is incorporating. Throughout the game, sideline interviews were frequent, including speaking with such players who had just thrown an interception, missed a kick, or fumbled the ball.

Hamilton mentioned that having those interviews with his players was unusual at first, but he's all for it. He reiterated that the relaunched league is all about the fans and giving them a style to watch football in a way they never could before.

"It was different for sure," Hamilton said. "There were times when I asked them to hold off, just for a second, so we could gather our thoughts in between series and communicate directly with the players without giving up too much of it. But it's part of it. It's all about the fans. We want to give the viewers access to professional football in a way they've never had."

And those fans showed up during the XFL's opening weekend. Over 17,000 fans showed up to a sold-out Audi Field to take in history.

"I thought our fans were outstanding," Hamilton said. "I truly felt like we had a home-field advantage. The fans, they gave our players energy. Audi Field, it was electric. To go out and beat up on another football team, it felt great for our guys."

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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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