12 former CFL players you didn’t know were in XFL training camps

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Much like Taco Bell in the hours following its consumption, the XFL is scheduled to burst forth from the bowels of pro football for a third time this week.

XFL 2023 has come a long way from the crass Vince McMahon showmanship of its originator. Salvaged from 2020 bankruptcy as part of a Dwayne Johnson ego trip, it will now battle with the USFL to become a marketable spring television product and seize the dollars that come with it.

Once viewed as a sure-fire bet to win that competition thanks to the star power of its leader and the deep pockets of investor RedBird Capital, even the XFL’s most bullish defenders may now be questioning the viability of a league that struggled to produce a schedule or find a home for one of its teams. However, the product on the field will be the ultimate decider on whether The Rock can succeed where others have failed.

While Randy Ambrosie’s ambition to partner the two leagues thankfully never came to fruition, dozens of players with CFL experience were among those vying for a job when XFL training camps opened on Sunday. While most failed to make their mark in Canada and headed home as training camp cuts, there are a few names that will get a glimmer of recognition from fans north of the border.

In honour of the upstart league’s third attempt at survival, here is a non-exhaustive list of players who will make you say, “I forgot about that guy.”

Photo: AP/Keith Srakocic

Martavis Bryant, REC, Vegas Vipers

Remember all the highlights Martavis Bryant produced in the CFL? Yeah, we don’t either.

The former Pittsburgh Steelers standout may be the most highly anticipated player to sign with two separate CFL teams and not make it to training camp with either one. Bryant drew the ire of Toronto Argonauts’ head coach Ryan Dinwiddie when he elected not to report to the team in 2021 but earned a second chance with the Edmonton Elks in 2022, only to be cut in May. He last played in the Fan-Controlled Football League and will continue his circuitous career path in Vegas — if he decides to show up.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

K.D. Cannon, REC, D.C. Defenders

Once an intriguing receiver prospect for the Riders, Cannon played six games over two seasons with the team. He caught 16 passes for 220 yards before requesting his release in 2019 after being moved to the practice roster.

Since then, the 27-year-old failed to catch on with the Los Angeles Wildcats of XFL 2.0 before briefly landing with the Seattle Dragons prior to the league’s collapse. He last played for the Vegas Knight Hawks of the Indoor Football League and was released in November.

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Elks. Photo edit: 3DownNation.

Matt Elam, DB, Orlando Guardians

A signature Chris Jones special, Elam arrived in the CFL with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2018 with all the baggage of a failed NFL first-round pick. He played nine games that season, making 31 tackles, three sacks and an interception, but was cut ahead of training camp the next year.

After stints with the D.C. Defenders of XFL 2.0 and the Tucson Sugar Skulls of the IFL, Jones brought Elam back north to Edmonton in 2022 for a second CFL shot at 31 years old. He started three games and registered 10 tackles before getting cut in late June.

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

A.J. Hendy, DB, Houston Roughnecks

One of several notable players who arrived in Canada following the fall of the XFL’s previous iteration, Hendy played 11 games during his first CFL season in 2021. He notched 14 defensive tackles, seven special teams tackles, and an interception while playing strong-side linebacker for Saskatchewan, but found himself released due to a play-time dispute with the coaching staff.

Head coach Craig Dickenson turned the other cheek and brought Hendy back for training camp in 2022, but the reunion was not fruitful. The 29-year-old was released on roster cutdown day and will now return to the XFL.

Photo courtesy: CFL.ca

Will Hill, DB, Arlington Renegades

Hill’s 2017 stint with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats was brief but he packed a lot into just five games worth of action. The Florida product looked like an outstanding find, racking up 25 defensive tackles, one special teams tackles, a sack, and two block field goals. He also earned a one-game suspension for grabbing an official, left the team twice to deal with family issues, and took a boatload of bad penalties, which led to his release due to “character concerns.”

Since then, the 32-year-old has become a spring football staple, getting rave reviews for his performance with the Orlando Apollos of the defunct Alliance of American Football and the St. Louis BattleHawks of the second XFL.

Photo: AP/Adrian Kraus

Daniel Joseph, DE, Seattle Sea Dragons

Though he’s not actually a former CFL player, Joseph is the only athlete on this list that fans should actually be concerned about. Taken with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 CFL Draft by the B.C. Lions, the Toronto native is an elite prospect and the sole Canadian currently under contract with a U.S. spring league.

The six-foot-two, 261-pound edge rusher most recently spent training camp with the Buffalo Bills. He recorded 83 total tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles during his final two collegiate seasons at NC State after transferring from Penn State.

Photo courtesy: Rob Rubin/Hawaii Athletics

Cole McDonald, QB, Houston Roughnecks

The only new XFL QB to have actually thrown a CFL regular season pass, McDonald had fans of late-night college football excited when he signed in Toronto after a stellar collegiate career at Hawaii.

He dressed for the team’s final regular season game in 2021, seeing action as a backup. McDonald completed four-of-eight passes for 45 yards and an interception, ultimately being released early in 2022 training camp when the team switched their attention to newcomer Chad Kelly.

Photo: Nik Kowalski/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Kelvin McKnight, REC, Seattle Sea Dragons

Before Dalton Schoen took the league by storm as a rookie, the prevailing wisdom around the CFL was that Kelvin McKnight would be taking an increased role in the Bombers’ receiving corps in 2022.

After hauling in 15 catches for 96 yards as a rookie and chipping in as a returner, that simply wasn’t in the cards for the Samford product. McKnight was released in June and then briefly brought back a month later, but did not dress in another CFL game.

Photo courtesy: CFL

Terrance Plummer, LB, Orlando Guardians

The last time the Argos won a Grey Cup, it was Terrance Plummer, not Henoc Muamba, commanding the middle of the defence. The 240-pound backer made 32 defensive tackles and six special teams tackles in 17 regular season games in 2017, taking over the starting job for a playoff run in which he made seven more tackles and registered a pick-six.

Plummer only played three games the next year but still signed a contract extension with the Argos, only to be released two weeks later. He signed with the AAF’s Orlando Apollos days before that league folded then landed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He was cut before training camp and last suited up for the Tampa Bay Vipers of the last XFL.

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Elks

Jalen Tolliver, REC, San Antonio Brahmas

Another XFL 2.0 alumni, Jaime Elizondo brought Tolliver with him from the Tampa Bay Vipers to Edmonton. He played 12 games for the Elks in 2021, catching 29 passes for 383 yards and four touchdowns in his first season.

That production didn’t appeal to Chris Jones, who released Tolliver following training camp this season and opted for Emmanuel Arceneaux instead. The 27-year-old will now be reunited with Elizondo, who is the offensive coordinator for the Brahmas.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Tre Watson, LB, St. Louis BattleHawks

After carving out a role on special teams in 2021, Watson looked like the guy to seize the Montreal Alouettes’ starting middle linebacker role this season. However, he was stunningly released after four games following two incidents with unnamed personnel.

Watson was signed by the Edmonton Elks and started three games for the team, missing significant time due to injury. He was released following the season, having recorded 35 defensive tackles, seven special teams tackles and a sack in 15 career CFL games.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

John Yarbrough, OL, Houston Roughnecks

A rare American interior offensive lineman to play in the CFL, Yarbrough suited up in 11 games for the Ticats in 2021 and made seven starts at centre and left guard. Yarbrough was not retained following the season and played last season for the USFL’s Houston Gamblers.

Editor’s note: a previous version of this article indicated that Hamilton was fined for using Yarbrough in a violation of the league’s Canadian ratio. This was incorrect, as the team was fined for playing an extra American receiver.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.