My Experience at the LA Wildcats vs DC Defenders Game
Since my time with the AAF, I have been waiting for an opportunity to get back on the sideline and meet with players. The XFL was everything I hoped for and more. It was very similar to my time with the Alliance. I felt growth in my reporting and I truly feel like I've gotten better since last year. I've watched a lot of sports talk shows and listened to a lot of sports podcasts since my time with the San Diego Fleet. I wanted to see where I could separate myself as a writer, interviewer, and reporter (outside of being just 16 years old). I have this vision, a vision where I'm a reporter who the players can relate with. I want to make sure the players can be comfortable with me and we could chop it up like we're friends. I don't want my interviews to feel like interviews, in a way I want it to be as if it's just a conversation on camera. This way the viewers can see what the players are really like when they're comfortable and in there natural headspace. Often times in media, the interviewer asks questions as if they already know how the player is going to respond. A lot of times when you're asked a question there is usually an "auto-pilot" response. I don't want auto-pilot responses, I want these players to be surprised that I asked them a question about their families, their passions, or something extremely specific about football. Being a high school football player, I believe I can relate with the players to a point, but if all my viewers can get some type of indirect connection with the players I'm happy. Everybody has a story and I want these players to be able to share theirs.
In order to get the players to open up I had to ask questions that these players care about. Questions that the players feel comfortable answering honestly. Leading up to the game I spent two days creating three questions for about 30 different players on each team. I went on every players Instagram, Twitter, Wikipedia, etc. to find something the players were passionate about. I am genuinely interested in these players as both an athlete and a person. I was able to find out really cool interests for these players like Tre McBride's passion for photography and Jalen Myrick's obsession with Naruto. A lot of times as fans we are so often to think of these players as athletes but it's important that people recognize that these are human beings with human being passions. Those passions are the things I want to dive deep into. I want to learn about the human behind the helmet. These shared passions enable me to build connections with the players. If it's dancing with the players or talking with them on Instagram, I love the human aspect of football. So I spent about 6-8 hours of preparation leading up to this game, and of course the night before I wasn't able to sleep. I slept for about 2 hours due to my excitement for the game. I didn't think it was possible, but I had adrenaline coursing through my veins for what felt like 24 hours! This must be what a player feels before there games. A little bit of nerves, a lot of curiosity, and energy equivalent to ten "Red Bulls" rushing through their bodies.
Leading up to the game, my only problem was I didn't have an outfit ready. I'm not the type of person that wears suits to games, but I also didn't want to look like I just threw clothes on. After I figured out what I was going to wear, everything was smooth. The stadium is only a half hour away from my house and there wasn't much traffic on a Sunday Morning. When I first got to Dignity Health Sports Park, I was in awe. Not because I felt overwhelmed, it was just because everything felt so right. My favorite artist Chance the Rapper has this one lyric, "I was not made for this, this was made for me". That's how this felt for me. It felt like a suit that was already tailored for me with out getting measured. It just fit. My adrenaline got a second wind as I met Heather Karatz, the president of the LA Wildcats right after I walked into the stadium. Even though it was just asking for directions, it was still a cool part of my experience.
Once I got onto the field, the first player I saw was big 6'9 Shawn Oakman. Despite his intimidating stature, I still felt comfortable around him. I didn't get a chance to talk with him because he was on the phone, but he is definitely somebody I look forward to getting to know. The first player I got to talk with was Nelson Spruce. Spruce remembered me from my time with the San Diego Fleet. I know it was something small for him to say that he remembered me, but it meant everything to me. Spruce is one of the biggest stars in the XFL and for him to say that meant I'm making myself known in the media world. I had a couple of different people come up to me saying the same thing, and it really goes a long way. Then I got to talk with Tre McBride, who had two touchdowns in the first half! I remembered Tre from the combine a few years back, and even though it was my first time meeting him he was super genuine. He's a player I talked with a little bit outside of my interview and I could see his authenticity instantly. After Tre I got to talk with: Willie Mays, Jameer Thurman, Jack Tocho, Ahmad Dixon, Simmie Cobbs, Rashad Ross, and Eli Rogers. Rashad Ross was an interview that was a long time in the making. He was a guy that I was supposed to interview in the last AAF game, but it folded before I got a chance to. Ross and I had talked through Instagram DM previously, so it was cool to finally meet him. Before the game is when I get to do most of my interviews and it's really fun to be out there and catch a glimpse of what the players look like when they're "in the zone".
After the players got suited up I met a bunch of people in the Sports Broadcasting industry. I met people who work for Spectrum, Fox, LA Times, CBS, and etc.. These opportunities are never promised, so I went out of my way to introduce myself to as many people as possible. From the security guards to Curt Menefee, I talked to nearly everyone I saw. The most successful people are the ones who take advice and apply it. That is how you grow and that is how you better yourself. According to my AP environmental science teacher, a species that can't adapt to their environment as time goes are bound to go extinct. This is the same in life, if you don't adapt and change your approach, your success won't be continuous. In this case, me adapting is listening to advice and using it to improve as an up and coming reporter. Meeting all these people was one of the coolest parts of the game for me.
The game itself was highly entertaining and fun to watch (especially if you are a Wildcats fan). There are many options for player of the game, but I would have to give it to the quarterback. Josh Johnson balled out and didn't make any arrant throws. He constantly made smart choices and was extremely decisive for when he chose to air it out. Tre McBride caught two of his touchdowns and Martez Carter caught his other. Carter is another candidate for Game MVP. He had two rushing touchdowns to go along with one touchdown reception. Carter lived up to his nickname, Mr. Excitement. If I had to describe his playing style it would be like a ball of energy. He's out there doing flips, leaps, and all types of athletic moves. According to head coach Winston Moss, Carter is going to be a big part of the game plan in the coming weeks and I'm fully prepared for him to be a star in the XFL. After the game I asked Mr. Excitement on how he got his nickname and he said, "I got Mr. Excitement from one of my high school coaches... I'm a little loose with the ball so he gave me Mr. Excitement, crowd pleaser, ball squeezer. I just get loose with it." Going forward I think the Wildcats running backs will be one of the most dominant position groups in the XFL. Usually they are led by Elijah Hood, but in the game Sunday, Carter led the way. Joining Hood and Carter in the backfield is Larry Rose and Dujuan Harris. Defensively the Wildcats were commanding. They had 4 interceptions, 3 sacks, and one punt block. This Wildcats team were major underdogs leading up to week 3, but ended up shocking the world.
I spent my post-game celebrating with the Wildcats. While they were enjoying Bud Light Seltzer, I was enjoying this opportunity and trying to make the most of everything. The energy was contagious and I don't think I broke my smile until the next day. In the presser I got to ask Martez Carter, Larry Rose, and Winston Moss questions. Moss has an extremely serious demeanor, but has underlying humor. You could sense his competitiveness through his responses and he was extremely articulate. On the other hand Martez Carter and Larry Rose were loving the moment. Their connection was obvious and it's easy to see why they are such a dynamic running back duo. After the presser they both already knew my name. That single handedly made my day. That makes me smile just writing this. Throughout the game they would do the "choppa style" which is the celebration I do at my school and with my football team. We got a video of us doing the choppa style and we vowed to make it a tradition after every win.
Moving forward, not only do I want to continue interviewing the players, but I want to start writing articles about individual player's stories. Everyone has a story, and I want to be an outlet for the players. From 6'9 Shawn Oakman to 5'7 Martez Carter, these players are extremely interesting people, with extremely interesting backgrounds. This was one of the best days of my life and I really hope I get the opportunity to come back for the rest of the home games this season!