When St. Louis opens the XFL season in San Antonio on Sunday afternoon, the spotlight will shine on BattleHawks’ quarterback A.J. McCarron, who won consecutive national championships at Alabama and played eight seasons in the NFL.

But if the pregame prediction from linebacker Lakiem Williams is right, it will be the BattleHawks’ defense that creates the buzz.

“We’re going to show them everything – our D-line getting sacks, the linebackers are gonna be flying to the ball getting tackles for loss, and if the offense does get a chance to put the ball in the air, our DB’s gonna be picking them out of the sky and getting points on the board.”

“All around we gonna be flying,” Williams said during a press conference on Monday.

Williams’ play on the field can back up the chatter.

He led the Syracuse Orange with 110 tackles in 2019 and earned All-ACC honors. Most recently, the Tacoma, Washington native was on the Seattle Seahawks 2022 pre-season roster, and he recorded three tackles and a sack in Seattle’s tune-up against the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 26.

Sep 14, 2019; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange linebacker Lakiem Williams (46) makes a tackle on Clemson Tigers wide receiver Amari Rodgers (3) during the first quarter at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports


Even with a different Hawks logo on his sleeve, head coach Anthony Becht knows Williams will be a ball-hawk on Sunday.

“A ton of speed, violence. Between the lines, he loves the game, he’s passionate about it,” Becht said.

“Off the field, he’s got a great personality. Mild-spoken, great teammate, excellent leader, high-character – he really checks all the boxes you want to have on the football field. He’s got a lot of preseason experience in the NFL, he’s just been close and at this point, to me, he’s an upper-level guy in our league.”

Becht ran a physical camp that did not shy away from full contact, just the sort of tempo that Williams embraces.

“I think it was very important, I actually like that traditional style of football. I like getting the pads on, I like being able to get physical in practice because we need it,” Williams said.

Midway through training camp, Becht saw dividends from that decision too.

“We scrimmaged Orlando, and it kind of looked different on our end – we liked that. And the players saw that, and they see, ok there’s a difference when we watched the film,” Becht said.

“There are teams that don’t hit at all, there are teams that went live occasionally – you know, we went live, we scrimmaged, we did a bunch of that stuff strategically throughout camp because a lot of these guys have not done the basic things at a live level for a while – you have to do it.”

The burden of Becht’s intense approach yielded another critical benefit for 51 players that were mostly strangers six weeks ago.

“I always feel like you come together when adversity hits you,” Williams said. “You’re two weeks into practice, you’re tired, your body aching, but your (teammate) is going through the exact same thing.”

“You’re on the field, you’re going through the battle, the trench work with everybody and you start to form that bond, that comradery – you see it on film. I can do my job because I know he’s gonna do his job.”

The true test beckons this weekend before a national television audience.

“It will be different for each and every player on our team, we don’t know how they’re going to react,” Becht said.

“Some of them have a lot of experience, some of them played at big college crowds, some of them haven’t played in a year and a half – some of them haven’t played a four-quarter game…we’re trying to prep them, condition them, toughen them up for those things.”

Andy Carroll
Andy Carroll

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