Ox in the XFL
by Scott Veith
TSL Extra, Issue #5

The big decision is to either become a poet or go back to school to pursue a Masterís degree in Business Administration. Not exactly the choices one would expect to hear from a 230-pound man with 4.5-second 40-yard dash speed and an NFC Championship ring. But these are the issues most pressing these days to former Tech tailback Ken Oxendine.

Ox, a 1998 Virginia Tech grad, said he plans on milking every drop out of the pro football career he embarked on three years ago. Then, he'll move on to either writing poetry or being a big cog in running a small business.

Drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the 7th round of the í98 draft, Ox spent two seasons with the Falcons and played in the Super Bowl in his first year in the league.

"(Playing in the Super Bowl) is a feeling like no other," Oxendine said. "Itís the pinnacle of your sport Ė what you dream of from the time youíre a kid. It was crazy because (Atlanta teammates Morton) Anderson and (Steve) DeBerg had been playing for like 16 years and they had never been to a Super Bowl. I was fortunate enough to get the chance early."

Ox spent two years with the NFC West club but found himself in a back-by-committee situation that eventually fell in favor of Pro Bowler Jamal Anderson. In two years with the Falcons, Ox rushed for 502 yards and scored two touchdowns Ė one rushing and one receiving.

Atlanta didnít work out, Ox said, because his role was never spelled out for him. "Atlanta was more or less a situation where I wasnít getting it done," he said. "They wanted to go another route. Really it was an odd situation. Itís difficult to explain."

The Falcons released Oxendine during training camp of the 2000 season. Ox signed on with the Detroit Lions, but his stint in the NFC Central was cut short when James Stewart emerged as a satisfactory replacement for retired Lion tailback and future Hall of Famer Barry Sanders. Ox was released by the Lions just days before the 2000 season opener against the New Orleans Saints.

Now Ox has a new gig. Heís a tailback for the Los Angeles Xtreme of the XFL. Ox said he had every intention of spending this off-season preparing for a shot at making an NFL roster for the 2001 season, but when he heard about the rebel league, he jumped at the chance.

"My agent, Tony Patriak, told me there was going to be a new football league coming out," Oxendine said. "(Xtreme) Coach (Al) Lugenbill actually was down in Atlanta and had a few guys he wanted to work out Ė like a little combine. So I worked out with him and he told me all about (the XFL)."

Oxendine said the new league has given him many new opportunities. Heís had the chance to stay involved in the game of football, have some fun, play some special teams and make a few bucks while heís at it.

"(The XFL schedule lasts) 2 months and we get $45,000 (for the season) or something like that," said Oxendine. "Plus, thereís two playoff games and we get paid each time we win, so thereís a possibility for $120,000 a year.

"There are 38 guys (on each XFL active roster). Itís a chance for me to work on my skills. Itís like high school or college all over again. I play on three or four special teams and we donít have guys who just specialize in one thing. My favorite thing about this league is that Iíve had more fun. I know what my role is and I go out and get it done. In the NFL, unless youíre a first-rounder or a second-rounder or something, you really donít know whatís expected of you. Here, Iíve had the chance to know my role and have fun."

Now comes the hard part for Ox. Heís a 25-year old graduate of one of the most prestigious technical universities in the country and he hasnít worked a single day at a nine-to-five job since he graduated. His NFL career is likely to be over some time in the next year. He realizes he canít keep playing football forever and is thankful for the opportunities with which the game has presented him, but life after football is creeping up faster than an NFL defensive back on a safety blitz.

Most of his ties are in Atlanta, despite growing up in Chester, Virginia. He now makes his home in Georgia with his fiancťe, Beth, a television producer for Atlantaís Fox News affiliate. He hasnít ruled out staying in football as a coach, but says thatís a hefty commitment for a guy looking to start a family with the woman he loves.

"Coaching, even in high school, is a big time commitment," he said. "They put in so much time. If Beth said she didnít want me to do that, I wouldnít, but actually, she said sheíd like that. She also said I should go into politics, so I donít know."

The Heart of a Poet

But Oxís greatest career ambitions lie in business and poetry. He said graduate school for business is most likely his next adventure. He plans on attending a school somewhere in the Atlanta area, probably Georgia State University.

"Itíll all depend on how this (XFL) season turns out," Ox said. "I might retire and go back to school. Iím thinking about getting my MBA. Or I could go into coaching. When you play pro sports, so many roads open up for you when youíre done playing and I just need to figure out which one to take."

Ox has also been writing since high school. Heís not interested in the "this is my life" tell-all biography stuff that has come from so many athletes in recent memory, and the Shaquille OíNeal/Deion Sanders music acts are not for him. Instead, heís an introspective poet who cares only that the words that appear on paper match the ones coming out of his heart.

"I write poetry about feelings, nature, love Ė stuff like that," he said. "Iíve been writing poetry since high school, so Iím looking for somebody to work with and maybe putting out a book. Maybe a little paperback or something."

Not a million-dollar deal for a book with his face on the cover. Not a "look at me. I can play football and I have a brain" type of book. Just a little paperback.

And much like his views on just about everything he speaks about, thatís realistic. He doesnít expect to crank out a best seller the first time around. Heís more interested in sharing his poetry with those interested in reading it.

Ox is realistic about everything. Even his Super Bowl experience as an NFL rookie. He looks back at a few moments in the game that will stand out in his memory forever and talks about them as if it were himself and a bunch of friends playing in a sandlot game against the kids from the other side of the tracks.

He remembers when teammate Tim Dwight returned a kick for a touchdown that put Atlanta right back in the game. He said, "You know, itís like any other game. We were behind, then itís like Ďwe can do this.í The last time I had a feeling like that was my sophomore year against UVa when we were down, and then Jim (Druckenmiller) hit Jermaine Holmes for a touchdown. Itís great to feel like the game isnít over yet."

Then, just seconds later, he mentions a high school game when a similar situation occurred. He spoke of the Super Bowl, a college rivalry and a high school game all in the same breath. As fans, we canít fathom the mention of the three levels of football without the traditional hierarchy we attach to them. Weíre the same people who laugh at the guy sitting next to us who compares a play he sees on television to a play he made in his last Pop Warner game.

But Ox doesnít do that. Heís thankful for all the opportunities football has afforded him and the hundreds of different places it has taken him, but to him, games are games and football is football. Still, he gets a little kick out of mentioning that his average yards-per-carry was the same as Jamal Andersonís in 1999.

Ox said his experiences at Tech are ones heíll never forget. He said there were dozens and dozens of players at Tech he enjoyed working with, but he singled out offensive lineman Derek Smith and coach's son Shane Beamer as two of his favorites.

"Derek Smith Ė Big D," he said. "Heís a guy I always liked and had fun with. We came in the same year as freshmen."

He said Shane Beamer was a fun guy to be around and the two still talk. Ox said Beamer also is settled in Atlanta now (he is a graduate assistant on the Georgia Tech coaching staff), so they get a chance to see each other often.

Ox said Coach Frank Beamer was an easy man to play for. "Coach Beamer reminded me of my high school coach," said Ox. "You knew what he wanted from you from day one, and you just gave it to him. I still talk to him, and some of the other coaches."

Looking Down the Road

And despite his stellar Hokie career, Ox said if he could do it again, but better, he would. "If I could play one game again," he said, "it would be when we went down to the Sugar Bowl against Texas. We won the game and everything, but I didnít play that well."

Ox didnít say how long it will be before Kenneth Qwavaris Oxendine, Jr. is the newest baby in the maternity ward of an Atlanta hospital, but he speaks of life with his fiancťe and their future like itís the greatest thing in the world. He already talks like a married man, saying heíll only go into coaching if itís O.K. with his wife.

He realizes that his glory days on the gridiron may be over before heís ready to hang up the spikes, but heís not worried about that. Heís got dreams of a family, a business and of poetry. He enjoys Atlanta and said thereís a good chance thatís where heíll be for the rest of his life.

But donít rule out seeing Ox on the sidelines of a Tech game in the near future. Football is his first love, and itís what got him to where he is today.

Scott Veith is Editor-In-Chief of the newly founded BlueCollarRacing.net and is a Production Assistant at WBRE-TV 28 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

 

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