By R.L. Bynum
It was an emotional and thrilling opening day in the XFL for former Carolina wide receiver Austin Proehl. He was part of an amazing comeback that only could have been pulled off because of the league’s quirky rules.
His St. Louis BattleHawks team trailed 15–3 with three minutes left, but won a road game 18–15 over the San Antonio Brahmas on his game-winning 16-yard touchdown catch with 16 seconds left. That led to an emotional embrace on the sideline with his father Ricky, a former Wake Forest star who is the Battlehawks’ wide receivers coach.
Austin Proehl caught a pass from former Alabama star A.J. McCarron and held onto the ball despite taking a hard hit right as he crossed the goal line.
“The good Lord blessed me with some hands,” Proehl said, who was asked what his dad told him during that embrace. “Good catch. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re built for.”
The comeback started on an 18-yard touchdown pass from McCarron to Hakeem Butler with 1:25 left.
In the XFL, you get one point for a conversion from the 2-yard line, two points from the 5-yard line and three points from the 10-yard line. St. Louis went for the third option, and McCarron converted with a pass to Proehl to make it 15–12. Proehl made the catch in double coverage at the goal line.
After a touchdown, an XFL team can attempt an onside kick or opt for a fourth-and-15 play from its 25-yard line. St. Louis went for the latter and, again, went to Proehl.
Proehl made the catch inches from the sideline at the BattleHawks 47, and St. Louis drove to Proehl’s game-winning catch. He finished with four catches for four targets for 49 yards, a touchdown and a three-point conversion.
Proehl, the Buffalo Bills’ seventh-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft, has never played in an NFL game but has signed with six teams (including the Buffalo Bills twice), most recently going to training camp last season with the New York Giants before being released.
In 2019, he played for the XFL’s Seattle Dragons. He caught the first touchdown pass in the league that season on April 10, 2020, a 57-yard reception from Brandon Silvers.
In four seasons at UNC from 2014 to 2017, Proehl had 91 catches for 1,265 yards and five touchdowns. An injury limited him to six games his senior year, but he returned to catch three passes for 52 yards on senior day against Western Carolina. He got injured against Duke in a game where he caught a 47-yard pass on a flea flicker.
Also in the XFL, linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel plays for the Orlando Guardians. The Guardians lost their opener 33–12 on the road against the Houston Roughnecks.
Photo via @XFLbattlehawks