Willie Harvey Jr. wasn’t sure he wanted to gamble his career on the XFL.
The Battlehawks’ leading tackler appeared in four games with the Cleveland Browns after a stellar collegiate career at Iowa State. As the spring 2023 season approached, he courted several bidders – reluctantly.
St. Louis selected Harvey in the XFL Draft and when Battlehawks’ head coach Anthony Becht made his pitch, the cerebral 26-year-old linebacker was cautious.
“I’m a businessman now,” Harvey said Thursday as St. Louis prepares for a rematch with the D.C. Defenders at The Dome at America’s Center.
“I own a trucking company and I’m really big into finance and stuff like that. On the side, I’m a day-trader…I was making decent enough money to where I could sustain my lifestyle outside of football.”
“It would have been my fourth year in the NFL,” Harvey said. “I’ve been with the same organization and things haven’t went my way so honestly, in my mind, I’ve done all I can do, and I was pretty close to just being done.”
Four games into the season, Harvey’s stock is on the rise and his decision to play is paying dividends for St. Louis. The Hastings, Florida native is third in the league with 28 tackles and one forced fumble.
“He was kind of a tough guy to bring on and buy-in to what we’re doing,” Becht said.
“He wasn’t sure if the XFL was the best route for him, but again, the more tape, the more you can do – it’s hard to really prove yourself in the preseason in the NFL because you just don’t get those reps…now he can really be on a platform of his own.”
The Battlehawks (3-1) need No. 51 to pad his portfolio again on Saturday night.
Former St. Louis’ quarterback Jordan Ta’amu returns to the Dome with the undefeated Defenders (4-0), who topped the Battlehawks’ 34-28 on March 5 in D.C.
“He did a lot of great things in St. Louis,” Becht said. “His element of being a dual-threat quarterback with his legs, as well as his arm – he made some plays with his arm in our game, in the last couple weeks.”
“We got to take something away from him. So, when he’s passing, we got to hit him – we got to hit him often. And when he runs, we got to hit him – and hit him often.”
Ta’amu scored through the air and on the ground in the first meeting, as St. Louis surrendered a season-worst 337 total yards.
The Battlehawks’ offense didn’t help matters, as D.C. returned an interception for a touchdown and committed three more turnovers that gave D.C. short fields.
Harvey was asked what will change for the rematch and he didn’t mince words.
“We’re definitely going to get a win,” he said.
Becht pointed out another obvious difference – the environment inside the BattleDome.
“I want the fans louder on third down. If you sit there and have a hot dog and a beer for the first two downs, I’m all good with it. Chill out, have your conversation – but when third down happens and they’re on the field, we need to stand up and be as loud as possible.”
“It is a vital part of the game, and when it was loud in those circumstances (last week), there was some offsides, there was some clock management issues – it just throws the quarterback off and everybody else from a timing perspective.”
“Third down is a premium down for the fans…I’ll take a couple more decibels if we can get them this week.”
Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505