It seems only fitting that Austin Proehl is beginning his XFL career in Seattle, since it’s also where he was born.
Proehl was born in 1995, during his father’s two-year stint with the Seattle Seahawks. That was part of a very productive 17-season NFL career for Ricky Proehl, who had 669 career catches for 8,878 yards and 54 touchdowns.
Now Austin, 24, is making a name for himself in professional football and he put himself instantly in the spotlight, scoring the first touchdown in the history of the new XFL when he hauled in a 14-yard scoring pass from Brandon Silvers.
That was part of a team-high five catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-19 loss to the DC Defenders last Saturday. The Dragons will need that production to continue Saturday in their home opener against Tampa Bay, particularly with receiver Kasen Williams, the former Husky and Seahawk, out again this week because of a quad injury.
But no matter what else happens, Proehl has a place in XFL history with the first TD.
“Like I said on TV (during the game), it was just a blessing from God being able to catch that pass,” Proehl said. “Brandon put a great ball on me, the O-line blocked well and without the other three receivers, it wouldn’t have been possible.”
Proehl, 5 feet 9 and 182 pounds, caught 91 passes in four seasons with North Carolina. Midway through his senior season, Proehl broke his collarbone and had a plate and seven screws put in to fix it. He was told that he was done for the season.
“They told me I was done and I refused to let that keep me out,” Proehl said. “I wanted to be there with my guys and my teammates at Chapel Hill. I believe, God healed me and I got back for my final two games.”
Proehl was drafted in the seventh round by the Buffalo Bills in 2018 but was waived during final roster cuts. This past season, he was waived by the Los Angeles Rams in final cuts.
“I’m definitely on the verge,” he said of making it in the NFL. “I believe in myself more than anybody believes in me, and I’ve got a lot of people believing in me. I’ve just got to keep working, keep grinding and trusting God’s plan.”
The work continues in Seattle. Ricky came out last weekend, and father and son explored the city “and that was pretty cool,” Austin said.
Ricky taught Austin how to catch a football and also how to serve. Austin won the ACC Top Six for Service award in 2016, and was nominated in 2017 for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team and the Wuerffel Trophy, given to a college player “who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.”
Proehl would go to UNC Children’s Hospital on Fridays before every home football game, mentored kids at elementary schools with reading and also worked with Habitat for Humanity.
“Feeling how blessed I am that God has put me in this situation, I wanted to give back,” he said. “I wanted kids to feel love, I wanted kids to have that same opportunity to be surrounded by people who can influence them.”
Proehl remained in contact with the kids he visited in the hospital.
“There were cancer patients that I visited that unfortunately passed away, but they had a deep, deep connection to my heart,” he said. “It was hard for me to deal with that in college because we developed a connection and a friendship.
“It became a routine for me, going over there (to the hospital), and it took my mind away from football a little bit. I got to go in there and try to impact someone and have a conversation about life, because that is more important than football.”
But football is a big deal to him as well. Coach Jim Zorn is impressed with what he has seen.
“Austin hates to be out (of the game), he loves to play and any chance he can to get on the field, he will take it,” Zorn said. “He can understand all four receiver positions, inside and outside. He is really grasping what we are trying to do, and he is quick as well.”
The Dragons and Vipers are both 0-1 and both will be desperate to get a win, particularly with the season being just 10 games.
“It’s going to be a great contest,” Proehl said. “They lost, too. We both want to get that first win under our belts so we know they are going to come in hungry.”