Football

XFL tryout brings the dream of a pro football career back to St. Louis and Rams Park

New St. Louis XFL coach Jonathan Hayes is introduced

The new head coach of the St. Louis XFL team, Jonathan Hayes, is introduced during a news conference at the Dome at America's Center.
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The new head coach of the St. Louis XFL team, Jonathan Hayes, is introduced during a news conference at the Dome at America's Center.

Former University of Illinois wide receiver Tim Lukas had his latest professional football experience Saturday at Earth City, Mo. It wasn’t unlike those the Mount Prospect native has been through before.

A 2014 graduate of Illinois, Lukas has been halfway around the world in search of steady work as a professional football player.

And he was one of over 140 former college and professional football players who took part in the St. Louis XFL Summer Showcase at the former St. Louis Rams practice facility in Earth City, Missouri. Showcases are are being hosted by all eight XFL franchises as the league gears up for its opening season which begins in February.

Lukas, who grew up in suburban Mount Prospect and was a standout defensive end and wide receiver at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, arrived in St. Louis from his Long Beach, California home Friday. Before noon on Saturday he was doing sprints, running pass patterns and doing what he could to make a positive impression on St. Louis head coach Jonathan Hayes, his coaching staff and other XFL personnel including commissioner Oliver Luck.

“Everybody here, we’re all trying to do the same thing, which is to continue doing what we love to which is play and compete in the great sport of professional football,” Lukas said during a break from drills.

Lukas has done that many places since catching his final pass for the Fighting Illini in the 2013 season. He has been a professional football player in six states and three countries.

His journey includes stints with Tampa Bay of the Arena Football League, the Green Bay Blizzard of the Indoor Football League and a chance to play in Brazil with the Juventude FA football club in 2015 where he was a quarterback.

“American football has been played in Brazil now for a few years and the level of players is actually very good and competitive,’’ Lukas said. “It was a tremendous experience that I won’t ever forget. The fans, the atmosphere, was just a great time. I want to go back someday.’’

Last year while playing with the Green Bay Blizzard, Lukas got call from his agent informing him that he would have a chance to play in the Canadian Football League with the seven-time Grey Cup Champion Montreal Alouettes.

“”I actually thought I did very well in Montreal, that I more than held my own,’’ Lukas said. “I understand why I was not kept on the roster. It was a financial decision. This is a business. I understand that.”

The 28-year-old Lukas, like the hundreds of other players at the XFL showcases in the league cities, hopes to get his chance to compete in the league beginning in 2020.

The XFL draft will be held in October.

The St. Louis Summer Showcase included players from all levels.

From former Michigan State University and Detroit Lions quarterback Connor Cook and University off Alabama All-American and Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson to unknowns Seth Berbert of Central Missouri State and Michael Miller of tiny Concordia College, players from throughout the nation were in St. Louis Saturday in hopes of impressing those in charge of the XFL.

Cook, 26, who won more games at quarterback than anyone else in Michigan State history, was released by the Lions last moth and is a former fourth-round draft choice by the Oakland Raiders.

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On Saturday, Cook showed off his arm during a passing drill.

“It’s great to be here. I know the people of St. Louis are anxious for the return of pro football,’’ Cook said. “I’m just here to show that I still have what it takes to play quarterback at the professional level. I’m grateful for this opportunity to show that can still read defenses and lead a pro style offense.’’

Richardson, who was the third player chosen in the 2012 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns, was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011 and two-time consensus first team all-American while playing for coach Nick Saban at Alabama. Richardson also spent time with Indianapolis, Oakland and Baltimore and a year in the CFL.

He last played for the Baltimore Iron in the Alliance of American Football League. Saturday, the 29-year-old Richardson was one of the more high profile players on the field at former Rams Park.

“I guess people look at me more because of my name and who I played for, but at the end of the day it’s all about coming out and doing your best and showing everybody what you got,’’ Richardson said. “It was a good day and I feel like I performed at a high level.’’

Still no name, logos or tickets

Following the showcase., XFL commisioner Oliver Luck addressed the media on several league issues. At the top of the agenda were questions team names, logos and ticket information.

“Those are things that will be announced soon. Very, very soon,’’ Luck said with a smile. “I know what they are but if I told you I’d have to kill you and I don’t want top spend the rest of my life in a Missouri jail..

“I will tell you that the XFL is excited to be in St. Louis and in talking to city and business leaders on Thursday and Friday, they are excited to have pro football back.. This is a football town. There are still some scars with what happened in the past. But we’re not going to dwell on that. We’re looking forward to what we think will be a great XFL future in St. Louis.’’

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