A.J. McCarron was a young quarterback at St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile, Alabama, when he developed a pre-game superstition.

The Saints football team attended chapel before his first start and players were supposed to exit from the backdoor and walk through campus to the locker room. But the freshman missed the memo and when the service ended, he went out the front door.

“I was wondering why there was nobody else there when I was walking down the street,” McCarron said. “I played well, and so from that point on, I really just broke the rules and walked down the street.”

The two-time NCAA national champion QB and seven-year NFL veteran dropped superstitions from his routine long ago. McCarron’s renaissance in St. Louis – he’s completed nearly 70 percent of 162 attempts and leads the UFL with 10 touchdown passes – isn’t the product of good luck.

“Truly, what helped me the most in my career, was tearing my ACL, as much as I hate to say it,” he said about a knee injury suffered in the 2021 NFL preseason. McCarron transformed his diet, swapping food that makes him feel “sluggish” for nutrition with anti-inflammatory benefits.

The results are evident, even to those closest to him. The 33-year-old has turned back time.

“I have people in my family now who are like, ‘Man, sometimes you look skinny out there’ – well, I feel great. My body feels great, I feel like I can move a whole lot better,” he said.

Defensive coordinators across the UFL anxiously nod in agreement.

McCarron is extending plays and escaping pressure. He rolled to his left while directing wide receiver Jahcour Pearson to the pylon for a touchdown in the Battlehawks’ 32-17 win over Memphis. The week before at the Alamodome in San Antonio, A.J. sprinted 15-yards through the middle of the field to the endzone.

“Please keep our family in your thoughts, we will NEVER hear the end of this TD run, LOL” McCarron’s brother Corey posted on social media.

A.J.’s fresh legs are more remarkable considering he’s going on two years of football with little rest. Beginning with the Battlehawks’ spring camp in January 2023 through the XFL spring campaign, then the NFL season with the Cincinnati Bengals, to the 2024 UFL schedule – McCarron has been up to the task.

“I think that’s a testament to my routine and taking care of my body. To be able to go two years straight, non-stop, and I feel great. I feel like I’m moving much better than I probably ever have,” he said.

A.J.’s mobility earns bragging rights at the McCarron family dinner table, but his football IQ and comfort with offensive coordinator Bruce Gradkowski’s scheme is helping St. Louis efficiently pile up points. The Battlehawks average a league-best 30.2 points-per-game and McCarron has thrown for over 1,000 yards with just one interception.

“A.J.’s on it, man. He’s got experience. And even when he came last year, even though he had years of experience, he only had played six games, total, in that seven, eight-year span (in the NFL),” head coach Anthony Becht said.

“It took him a little bit early last season to catch, but once he did, the intellect is always there – it’s now believing and knowing you can do it now at that level…the confidence level is high and the demand for him is high on our end as well.”

St. Louis (4-1) welcomes the Houston Roughnecks (1-4) to The Dome at America’s Center on Saturday, as the Battlehawks look to stay atop the XFL Division standings. The Roughnecks struggle to score (15.2 points-per-game) but enjoy more success defensively, led by linebacker Reuben Foster, McCarron’s teammate at Alabama.

“Teams’ records don’t matter in this league, they will improve,” Becht said. “Everything lines up for a team like Houston to be ultra-ready for this football game and that’s what we’re expecting.”

Kickoff from The Dome is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday. The Battlehawks announced $17 tickets will be available for walkup purchase at the gates.

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