NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
The Fall Experimental Football League is slated to begin its inaugural season on Wednesday, with the aim of serving as a developmental platform for the National Football League.
Founded by sports lawyer Brian Woods in May of 2014, the FXFL’s four-team circuit will provide a venue for former college prospects and recent NFL players to work back into the league of 32. And when the league kicks off its month-long schedule, at least eight players with ties to the New England Patriots will play a part in it.
The list of connections includes wide receiver Wilson Van Hooser, offensive linemen Jon Halapio and R.J. Mattes, tight ends Brandon Ford and Kyle Auffray, wideout Jeremy Gallon, cornerback Jordan Love, as well as defensive lineman Travis Chappelear.
Van Hooser, a 6’0”, 195-pound product of Tulane and Troy, signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent on May 27, and played wideout as well as special teams over the course of the preseason. The 23-year-old, waived during New England’s cut to 75 players on Aug. 26, will play for the Boston Brawlers, based in nearby Harvard Stadium.
Mattes, a 6’6”, 313-pound blocker by way of North Carolina State, signed with the Patriots as an undrafted rookie on May 13, 2013. After being released by the Patriots 10 days later, Mattes re-signed with the team on June 3, where he stayed until being waived with an injury designation August 19. The 24-year-old reverted to the team’s injured reserve before being released with an injury settlement a week later. Mattes, who re-signed with New England in December before being waived this June, will also suit up for the Brawlers. He most recently was a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Halapio, a 6’3”, 320-pound ex-Florida Gators guard, was a Patriots sixth-round pick in May. A two-time captain at Florida, Halapio played 112 snaps with the Patriots during the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus, prior to being waived on Aug. 30 as part of 53-man roster cuts. Halapio had a tryout with the Minnesota Vikings in September, before joining the Brawlers.
Ford, a 6’3”, 245-pound Clemson Tiger, was signed by New England on April 27, 2013, after going undrafted. The 24-year-old “F” tight end was waived-injured by the Patriots on Aug. 12 that summer, clearing waivers before landing on injured reserve. Ford, who was released from New England’s IR five days after landing on it, will also play for the Brawlers.
Auffray, a 6’5”, 254-pound former Mississippi State and New Hampshire quarterback, punter and tight end, was signed by the Patriots on June 9, 2014. The 27-year-old first-year player spent one week on the roster during organized team activities before being waived. Auffray originally signed with the Arizona Cardinals as a rookie free agent on May 13, 2013, and has also been a member of the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders. He will now be a member of the Brooklyn Bolts, who will play their home games at MCU Park.
Gallon, a 5’8″, 185-pound Michigan Wolverines receiver and returner, was a Patriots seventh-round draft choice in May. The 24-year-old began training camp on the physically unable to perform list before passing his physical on Aug. 18. He caught two passes for 20 yards and returned four punts for 20 yards over the tail end of the preseason, but was released Aug. 30. Gallon worked out for the Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers, and officially signed on with the Bolts just this week.
Love, a 6’0”, 190-pound Georgia Bulldog and Towson Tiger, was invited to rookie camp with the Patriots on a tryout basis in May, but was not signed to a contract. The 23-year-old undrafted free agent will be playing for the Bolts over the next five weeks.
Chappelear, a 6’5”, 263-pound former Missouri Valley College and Northwest Missouri State standout, signed with the Patriots on Aug. 1, 2013, and was waived the following day. The 25-year-old defensive end was originally signed by Cincinnati as an undrafted free agent on April 30, 2013. He has since spent time with the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and now the Omaha Mammoths, who will host the Bolts at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha at 8 p.m. Wednesday night.
The Brawlers, Bolts and Mammoths will each play five games through the Nov. 12, while a fourth team, the Black Tips, will play three road games. The three announced squads carry a 40-man maximum per roster, while the Black Tips will operate from an all-star format.
In the end, the goal is extensive repetitions for every player. And along the way, some new gameplay methods will be tested. The FXFL will implement a variety of proposed NFL changes, including extra points from the 17-yard line, an assortment of new kickoff rules, as well as attempting field goals from one of the hash marks, and permitting the defense to utilize only four alignments against punt teams.
Games will be broadcast on ESPN3 and various other outlets, including Comcast Chicago, SportsNet New York and New England Sports Network.