After months of boardroom intrigue culminated in the birth of a new league, few predictions for the United Football League’s inaugural season can be made with confidence.

But at least one sure bet remains: The grim concrete confines of the BattleDome in St. Louis are again poised to welcome the most raucous fanbase in spring football.

The Battlehawks averaged more than 35,000 fans per game in 2023 – and unlike last year when tickets in the upper bowl of the Dome were retailed last minute, the 400 sections are on sale well in advance of St. Louis’ home opener on April 6.

Second-year head coach Anthony Becht relishes the advantage of playing in the Lou, especially the expectations that come with it.

“We always talked about in the past when I was a player, when you play at home you want to ‘lock the gates’, you want to make sure you win all five games at home…and hopefully more in the playoffs.”

Playoffs have been on Becht’s mind from the moment last year’s Battlehawks (7-3 record in the XFL) were denied a postseason trip by a bewildering series of tiebreakers. The new journey begins on Sunday with a scrimmage against the Birmingham Stallions to cap the second week of training camp. Then the roster must be trimmed from 75 to 58 players.

“It’s nice to have 28-29 guys back from this past season that know what the expectation is…I’ve really been pushing for them to police the team a little bit,” Becht said after a physical practice featured several full-contact sessions.

“A lot of the heavy lifting has been done. If somebody can pop in the scrimmage, that can help them, but I think we feel like we have a good idea (who will survive cuts).”

It’s understandable that most of the Battlehawks’ depth chart is already filled out with permanent marker, especially the most important spot.

Veteran quarterback A.J. McCarron is back after serving as the backup quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals. McCarron played in two games, completing 4-of-5 passes for 19 yards.

“I was glad to see him get to the NFL and wanting to come back for one more year, with a chip on his shoulder as well. He came back for one reason, and one reason only – to lead this team to a championship,” Becht said.

Most of McCarron’s favorite weapons from last spring are in the huddle again, too.

Wide receivers’ Hakeem Butler (599 yards, 8 TDs) and Darrius Shepherd (519 yards, 6 TDs) return after they helped McCarron pace the XFL with 24 touchdown passes.

Jahcour Pearson – the XFL’s leader in receptions (60) and yards (670) with Seattle in 2023 – signed with St. Louis in the offseason but suffered a knee injury in camp that will require several weeks to rehab. Ja’Marcus Bradley – a 2nd round pick for St. Louis in the 2023 XFL Draft – fills out a loaded WR room.

Becht expects to lean on a trio of running backs with Wayne Gallman, Mataeo Durant, Jacob Saylors and Kevon Latulas looking to avoid being the odd man out. Gallman was the feature back for Clemson’s 2017 national championship team and he rushed for more than 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns in the NFL, primarily with the New York Giants.

St. Louis travels to Ford Field in Detroit on Saturday, March 30 to open the UFL season against the Michigan Panthers.

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