Garret Dooley Continues Football Journey with XFL's New York Guardians
Garret Dooley checked his phone on Sunday afternoon after a season-opening win and saw it had, as the kids say, blown up.
In the first quarter of a 23-3 win over the Tampa Bay Vipers, the New York Guardians linebacker laid a smack on tight end Nick Truesdell that jarred a would-be completion into what was eventually ruled as an incomplete pass. Credited with a pass breakup, the former Wisconsin Badger edge rusher turned XFL 'backer also found himself on the league's official Twitter account via a tweet saying, "This. Is. The. #XFL."
"To be honest at the time, I didn't even think it was that big of a hit," Dooley told AllBadgers.com on Wednesday morning. "I didn't even realize that I had forced the ball out until I watched the replay again. I thought it was actually someone else.
"I was really surprised it was overturned (from a fumble), but either way, whether it be a forced fumble or pass deflection or whatever, obviously just trying to contribute my part. It was definitely pretty cool to be able to watch the replay of that. It was a pretty good hit.”
According to Dooley, he heard from Wisconsin teammates Troy Fumagalli, Jack Cichy, Joe Ferguson, Leon Jacobs and Matt Miller. Those former Badgers still keep in close contact via a group chat.
"I heard from all of them," Dooley said. "Then just some of the other guys like Tyler Johnson, (Andrew) Van Ginkel, those type of guys I heard from them afterwards.”
Dooley, like his teammates and others in the XFL, look to display their various skillsets and continue their professional football careers. He and the Guardians displayed their defensive prowess in the 20-point win last weekend, forcing three turnovers and holding former teammate Tanner McEvoy and the Vipers to just a field goal on the scoreboard.
The former Badger officially was credited with a tackle, a forced fumble and the aforementioned pass breakup in the victory. His journey from second-team All-Big Ten selection to undrafted NFL free agent now takes him to this stage of his football career.
“Obviously, not being on an NFL team this past year was not the road that I obviously wanted to take, but the XFL being a new league, it kind of gave me an opportunity to still continue to play football, showcase myself and hopefully get back to where I want to," Dooley said. "It was definitely a heck of a fun game on Sunday. Because it's been a little while for a lot of these guys, and I know we were all pretty hyped up with the past couple of months having training and practice and just kind of get ready for that moment.
"It was more than we had expected. The fans were great and it was a gorgeous day for football. It was just awesome to come out with a W.”
In his 2017 campaign, he tallied 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss for a Wisconsin defense that finished No. 1 in the country in pass efficiency defense, No. 2 in the country in total defense, and No. 3 in both scoring defense and rushing defense. He set his sights on the NFL, earning invites to the Reese's Senior Bowl and the 2018 scouting combine.
Though not selected in the NFL Draft later that year, the Minnesota Vikings signed Dooley as an undrafted free agent. He made the NFC North organization's practice squad before being released in October. He found a home within the same division on the Detroit Lions’ practice squad. During his second week with the new team, however, he broke his hand and was put on injured reserve.
Dooley stayed with the Lions through 2019 training camp before being cut on August 31 and spent the season without an NFL franchise. With the advent of the XFL approaching, he admitted he was a "little bit skeptical" with the new league. That being said, he took a chance.
The St. Louis Battlehawks selected him in mid-October as part of the league's "Phase 5 Open Draft." That would put the Rochester, Ill., native about 80 minutes away from home, and friends and family (and fiancée) could watch him play.
However, Dooley found his way to the Guardians on Jan. 8 as part of a waiver assignment. Now under the leadership of head coach Kevin Gilbride and defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann, he holds multiple roles within the defense.
"I’m the SAM (strong-side) linebacker in our base personnel, and then I’ll rotate in kind of like at Wisconsin whenever I was basically a defensive end in like our nickel packages," Dooley said. "When it comes to longer situations and whatever type of pressures or whatever our defensive staff dials up for us, I'm kind of a utility guy.
"I can play inside, play outside, whatever.”
With this new opportunity at hand, Dooley noted that he and his teammates have adjusted well to the routine of the league, between having meetings and the organization's locker room in a hotel and busing between a couple of practice facilities.
As often highlighted in the weeks leading up to and during the first set of games, the XFL also innovated new rules in particular areas. Among them include shorter play clocks, a modified replay system and how the coaches and players communicate with each other.
Two new changes may pop out the most to viewers. The XFL implemented a system where there are no extra point attempts via kicking situations after touchdowns. Offenses will be able to choose from one-, two- or three-point tries from different distances.
For kickoffs, the ball is kicked from five yards deeper than the NFL. The special teams units line up on the 30- (receiving team) and 35-yard line (coverage team) of the "return side" and cannot move until the returner touches the ball or after the ball has been on the ground for three seconds.
Dooley admitted there has been some acclimation, but he likes the rules.
"It took a little bit of an adjustment just kind of going through practices and meetings," Dooley said. "Just because most people, the coaches too, they had no idea what to expect because they had never run that kind of kickoff, kick return style before so all the techniques being taught were new to them. It was interesting for the first days, but I think everyone's kind of gotten a grasp of it and just going with the flow and everyone's enjoying it.
"If there's any more rules changes that happens, I'm sure we'll be prepared to adjust accordingly. I like the rule changes. It's not that I don't dislike what the NFL does, but I think it's just a cool new spin on certain things. Obviously they want to see a bunch of returns so I think that's definitely interesting.”
In its debut weekend, the XFL turned some heads both on social media and in the TV ratings last weekend. As noted by The Hollywood Reporter, the Sunday contest between the Guardians and Vipers on FOX was watched by 3.39 million people -- the most of any of the four league games.
“I know a lot of guys were pretty excited to be here, and this opening weekend was definitely more than I think anyone anticipated," Dooley said. "I saw all over Twitter and Instagram, how a lot of people were reacting and saying that the XFL is the new big league, and how it came out with a lot more energy, and I think good football that a lot of people weren't expecting to see. It's still professional football, and these guys are some of the best players so every single week, we have to come out."
Dooley wants to play football for as long as possible. That's his stated goal. Eventually, he would like to get back to the NFL as he believes he has the skill level, work ethic and determination to get back there. For now, he is focused at the task at hand with his new football home as New York takes on former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones and the DC Defenders this Saturday (1 p.m. CT, ABC).
"Short-term (goal) is to be the first team to win the XFL championship, that's for sure," Dooley said. "First off, we have to take it week-by-week. We're 1-0, and that's what we wanted to be, but every week's a new week, and we just have to focus on DC this week."
Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify more of the XFL's new rules.