Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Vipers

He was a high school football coach. Then the XFL called.

Earlier this year, Lucas Wacha began to wonder whether his playing career was over. Thanks to the XFL, it’s not.
Linebacker Lucas Wacha, now with the XFL's Tampa Bay Vipers, played for Wyoming from 2013 through 2016, for the NFL's Dallas Cowboys during summer of 2017 and for the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2018. [ANDRES LEIGHTON  |  Associated Press]
Linebacker Lucas Wacha, now with the XFL's Tampa Bay Vipers, played for Wyoming from 2013 through 2016, for the NFL's Dallas Cowboys during summer of 2017 and for the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2018. [ANDRES LEIGHTON | Associated Press]
Published Dec. 19, 2019
Updated Feb. 4

PLANT CITY — It was a team meeting two years in the making.

Before, the XFL and the Tampa Bay Vipers were an idea, names on paper. But on Dec. 3, the idea became reality, and the names became teammates.

That night, after a long day of travel and paperwork, coaches, players, front office personnel — the entire Vipers operation — gathered in a conference room at the team hotel in Temple Terrace.

Head coach Marc Trestman’s first message: You can’t find the value in people unless you really know who they are, and you can’t know who they are unless you listen. He then asked each player to introduce himself — name, hometown, last locker room.

“New York Jets.”

“Orlando Apollos.”

“Winnipeg Blue Bombers.”

“Pleasant Grove High School.”

Wait. What?

High school?

Most Vipers players were coming directly from an NFL, Alliance of American Football or Canadian Football League locker room.

Not linebacker Lucas Wacha.

His last stop: assistant coach for his high school team, the Class 4A Division II Pleasant Grove Hawks in Texarkana, Texas.

In fact, he got the call that he had been drafted by the Vipers during one of Pleasant Grove’s practices in October.

“Where we going?” players shouted as Wacha hung up.

“Tampa Bay!”

The team erupted.

“When you’ve been working so hard for something and you get that phone call — I wouldn’t have wanted to share that moment with anyone else,” Wacha, 26, said after a Vipers practice this week.

Wacha, the brother of New York Mets pitcher Michael Wacha, was with the Hawks for only a few months, but he quickly bonded with his players. Pleasant Grove head coach and athletic director Josh Gibson said that when Wacha left for the XFL earlier this month, Hawks players wrote about 65 letters to him.

“I’ll say this: I don’t know who’s on that football team in great detail, but I just know with a kid like Lucas you’re not going to get a guy who’s going to prepare any harder than him while he’s there,” Gibson said. “He’ll find a way to make a big-time contribution.”

Related: XFL Q&A: Oliver Luck on lessons learned, Colin Kaepernick and sports betting

About seven months ago, Wacha, who had a stint with the Dallas Cowboys during their training camp in 2017 and played for the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2018, was beginning to confront the possibility that his career as a football player was over.

In May, he suffered a quadricep injury during a Tiger-Cats preseason workout. In June, Hamilton released him. He was out of work.

But not for long.

Vipers defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville, the same Jerry Glanville who coached the NFL’s Houston Oilers (1985 to 1989) and Atlanta Falcons (1990 to 1993), called Wacha and invited him to the XFL Summer Showcase in Tampa. They had crossed paths in 2018, when Glanville was the defensive coordinator for the Wild-Cats.

“I wanted him in five seconds,” Glanville said. Then he deadpanned: “But he fooled me. I thought he was really good. You make mistakes.”

Related: Why Vipers quarterback Tyler Cornelius is an 'iceman'

Wacha accepted Glanville’s invitation and dropped $400 on a flight and hotel stay to attend what was essentially a tryout.

“It was one of those risks I was willing to take,” he said. “I’d do anything for football.”

After the Summer Showcase, the Vipers maintained contact with Wacha. June Jones, the head coach of the Houston Roughnecks, also reached out. Before joining the XFL in May, Jones was the head coach of the Tiger-Cats.

Wacha figured that he would reunite with his former head coach or defensive coordinator in the XFL, but on the fringes of professional football, there are no guarantees, so he pursued a teacher’s license in June and joined the Pleasant Grove coaching staff in July.

“Everybody has a journey — every one of these guys do,” Trestman said. “And that’s what we’re here to find out.”

Related: 'The XFL is for real. This is going to happen.'

The next leg of Wacha’s journey: He’s headed back to Texas today to finish what he and Pleasant Grove started. The Hawks will be playing in the state championship game Friday at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. Wacha will be on the sidelines.

“I think someday when he’s totally done playing, this is exactly what he wants to do, is be a coach and impact kids, and he’s great at it,” Gibson said.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

  1. A determination to play the position he loves has Tampa Bay Vipers defensive tackle Nikita Whitlock (49) still pushing at age 28. The Vipers play their home opener at 2 p.m. Saturday against Houston at Raymond James Stadium.
  2. The XFL begins its 10-week regular season Feb. 8, one week after the NFL's Super Bowl.
  3. Vipers' Quinton Flowers (9) said it's been difficult to get into a rhythm with quarterbacks moving in and out. Is that why the Vipers have struggled in the red zone so much?
  4. Tampa Bay Vipers defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville drove race cars in between football stints over the years.
  5. Tim Tebow, who is in spring training with the Mets, says he wants to be "all in" on baseball.
  6. A closeup detail view of the XFL ball. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)
  7. Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Taylor Cornelius warms up before last week's XFL opener at the New York Guardians.
  8. Tampa Bay Vipers wide receiver Daniel Williams (81) runs off the line during an XFL football game against the New York Guardians, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. The New York Guardians won 23-3.
  9. Former USF quarterbacks B.J. Daniels, left, and Quinton Flowers, right, could square off when Seattle plays host to Tampa Bay in an XFL game Saturday.
  10. Tampa Bay Vipers defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville would prefer to use just one headset to relay plays, but in Sunday's opener he had to use two.
  11. Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Aaron Murray calls out a play before the ball is snapped during Sunday's season opener against the New York Guardians in East Rutherford, N.J.
  12. XFL television ratings are strong through the opening weekend, with the Vipers' first game doing best nationally.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement