The NFL season may have come to a close with this past Sunday’s Super Bowl, but we will not be without football this spring. The XFL is ready for its restart after making it through just five weeks of play in the spring of 2020. And UMHB is represented.
Crusader football alum Blake Jackson, who has spent time with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, is a wide receiver on the roster of the Seattle Sea Dragons. The Sea Dragons kick off their 2023 season in the nation’s capital, battling the D.C. Defenders on Sunday night in a primetime matchup.
Here’s how to watch
Seattle Sea Dragons at D.C. Defenders
Location: Washington, D.C. (Audi Field)
Time: 7:00 p.m. CST
Watch: ESPN/ESPN+/ESPN Deportes/TSN Plus
Where is Jackson on the depth chart? According to XFLNewsHub, Jackson, wearing #80, is slotted to start at one of the four receiver positions, alongside longtime former NFL All-Pro Josh Gordon, two-year NFL vet Juwan Green, and Ole Miss alum Jah’Cour Pearson. Ben DiNucci, an All-American at James Madison University in 2019, is the projected starting quarterback.
With the season upon us, we felt it’d be appropriate to give you a look at the former Crusaders who have gone on to play professionally on North American soil. A complete list is below, though due to lack of statistics and limited information on a number of teams and leagues, we were unable to highlight every Crusader alum who has played professionally, so please email us with any additions to our list. The years next to a player’s name indicate the seasons he played at UMHB. The years following the league name are the years he played in that league, according to our research. A look at alums who played professionally overseas will come soon.
Jerrell Freeman: NFL (2008-2017)
A statue at Crusader Stadium honors Freeman’s impact on the program, and he is held in high regard amongst the conversations of Crusader greats for good reason. Freeman was twice named a D3football.com All-American in his time in Belton, which spanned from 2004-2007, culminating when he was named D3football.com’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. During that final season in the Purple and Gold, the linebacker tallied 59 tackles, six sacks, and 18.0 tackles for loss. At the time of his departure from Belton, Freeman, a native of Waco, Texas, was the program’s all-time leading tackler.
Freeman made history as the first UMHB alum to earn an NFL contract, when he was signed by the Tennessee Titans in 2008, as an undrafted free agent. Though released by the Titans in the preseason, Freeman headed north to Canada, where he became the Sakatchewan Roughriders’ Most Outstanding Rookie in the CFL in 2009. He had 25 special teams tackles that year, seeing increased playing time the following season, before putting together an excpetional campaign in 2011, leading the CFL with 105 tackles.
He spent three years with the Indianapolis Colts following that stint in Canada, before finishing his career with the Chicago Bears from 2017-2018. Freeman retired on May 2, 2018, with 597 career tackles in the NFL, and 12.0 sacks.
Nate Menkin: NFL (2012-2013, 2014-2016), CFL (2014)
The only former UMHB offensive lineman to have ever played in the NFL or CFL, Menkin made his presence known on the O-Line around the same time Freeman made an impact in Canada. A 6’5, 300 lb tackle from nearby Lago Vista, Menkin was a First Team All-America selection by the AFCA as a senior in 2011, before signing with the Philadelphia Eagles in August of 2012. He spent time on the practice squads of the Eagles and Houston Texans before venturing north with the CFL’s Ottawa Roughnecks. Following a solid year there, the Baltimore Ravens signed Menkin just two days before Christmas in 2014. He retired in January of 2016.
Blake Jackson: NFL (2018-2019), CFL (2018, 2021-2022), XFL (2020, 2022-2023)
Jackson is famously remembered as the quarterback who led UMHB to its first national title in the 2016 Stagg Bowl win over UW-Oshkosh, 10-7. Jackson completed 16-of-27 passes for 171 yards and rushed for UMHB’s lone touchdown of the game, finishing the year as a Third Team D3football.com All-America selection. The 5th-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the state of Texas coming out of Houston’s Dobie High School, Jackson split time with Zach Anderson as the Cru’s starter, before taking over the job completely in 2016.
He converted to a wide receiver following his graduation from UMHB, and got his big opportunity when the Cleveland Browns spotted him at The Spring League in La Jolla, California in 2018. He was initially signed, then waived, then re-signed by the team midway through the regular season and promoted to the 53-man active roster on December 28, 2018.
After a brief stint in the XFL with the Houston Roughnecks, the league shut down in the early months of Covid, and Jackson moved onto the CFL. He signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2021, but suffered a season-ending injury.
In November 2022, he was drafted by the Seattle Sea Dragons of the XFL, and with the season set to begin on Feb. 19, figures to be a factor in Seattle’s offense. Jackson is one of three on the team from a Texas university. He is also not the only D-III alum on the roster, joined by UW-River Falls’ Ben Beise and St. Nobert’s Kendall Karcz.
Javicz Jones (2009-2012): IFL (2014-2017)
One of the top defenders in UMHB’s history, Jones’ 62 solo tackles during the 2012 season ranks fourth amongst single-season records in program history and his mark of 141 total tackles in 2011 remains second in the Crusader record books.In 2012, he completed the trifecta of being named an All-American by three different organizations: the AFCA, D3football.com, and the AP. He finished his college career as the active leading tackler in D-III.
The linebacker out of Katy, Texas initially went to the Houston Texans’ minicamp after graduating, and also played in the Arena Football League for a time. But he made his most notable pro impact in the Indoor Football League, where he was named to the Hall of Fame in 2019. He spent time with both the Iowa Barnstormers and Texas Revolution during his career, earning the IFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2017. At the time of his induction in the IFL Hall of Fame, Jones was third in career tackles in the league’s history, with 540.
Bryce Wilkerson, (2014-2017): CFL (2019), IFL (2021)
The first player on the list who played receiver during his time in Belton, Wilkerson’s 66 receptions in 2017 ranks third in program history and his 47 punt returns during that same year remains an ASC record. He also still holds the top mark for average kickoff return yardage in UMHB history (37.9), a record he set in 2017 as well.
From Tyler, Texas, Wilkerson saw limited action in his inaugural season with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2019, before earning a spot on the roster of the Frisco Fighters of the Indoor Football League. He had 17 receptions for 181 yards and a touchdown in 2021 along with eight kick returns for 85 yards.
Reggie Cole, (2015-2018): XFL (2020), CFL (2021, 2022)
He came to Belton in 2015 as a wide receiver but by the time he left, he was an All-American by the Associated Press and D3football.com…as a defensive back. He played on UMHB’s 2016 and 2018 Stagg Bowl title teams, tallying two interceptions during the 2018 season, his senior year.
Cole actually began his career in the XFL, drafted by the D.C. Defenders in the sixth round of the league’s inaugural draft. After the season ended abruptly, due to the Covid pandemic and bankruptcy, Cole moved onto the CFL in the summer of 2021, he signed with the Hamilton Tiger Cats after an exceptional performance in The Spring League. He is currently a free agent, and recently did an exceptional interview with Sacrifice Training’s Bryson Tucker and Eric Henri, on his journey “in and out of professional football”. It is worth a listen.
Teidrick Smith, (2013-2016): CFL (2017)
The program’s all-time leader in sacks (52) and tackles for loss (84), Smith was a force to be reckoned with during his time in Belton. A three-time All-American on the Crusader defense, Smith had four tackles and a sack in UMHB first-ever national championship win in 2016. Following his collegiate career, Smith was signed by the Ottawa Redbacks of the Canadian Football League, where he played the 2017 season. He also went through “organized team activities” with the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL in the summer of 2017.
The following players spent time in the Central Plains Football League or Continental Professional Football Leauge
Eric Allen (Holds UMHB record for longest interception return), DB, (2011-2014)
Michael Coles, OL, (2009-2012)
Silvio Diaz, DT, (2010-2013)
Jarred Favorite, DB, (2010-2012)
Mike Maldanado, LB, (2010-2012)
Marcus Wimby, WR, (2012-2015)
The following players spent time on an IFL or AFL roster:
Bryson Tucker, DB/PR/RB, (2009-2012)
Lorenzo Morgan (1999-2003)
P.J. Williams, WR, (2003-2005)
Rolandus Johnson, DB, (2002-2005)
Freddie Rollins, RB (2004-2006)
Eric Henri, DB, (2005-2008)
Elex Reed, DE/DL, (2002-2005)