New York Guardians
Photo Courtesy of the New York Guardians

New York Guardians kicker Matt McCrane used a rare day off from XFL camp in Houston to organize a special trip.

Geoff Magliocchetti

They haven’t engaged in a single down of XFL football yet. Nonetheless, the New York Guardians are already making some big plays.

Members of New York’s newest football team recently paid a visit to the Houston branch of Shriners Hospitals for Children. While there, they delighted the young patients on a rare day off in their football lives. Guardians kicker Matt McCrane, a Brownwood, TX native and NFL alum, organized the trip.

The team has taken up residence in Space City alongside their XFL brethren for training camp and joint practices. Thus, downtime is severely limited, as any interludes are, more often than not, ended with meetings or workouts.

But when a rare idle day presented itself on the schedule, McCrane knew exactly what he wanted to do. It just so happened he was literally part of a Shriners family. Both his father and grandfather were both Masons and Shriners. McCrane eventually teamed up with the organization during his college days at Kansas State.

ESNY caught up with the veteran kicker to discuss the charitable trip. During the discussion, McCrane fondly expounded on his connections to the fraternity.

“I’m a third-generation Shriner,” he said. “My dad is a Shriner as well. He worked in the Shriners Burn Center in Galveston while he was attending UTMB (University of Texas Medical Branch). And then my granddad is on the Houston Board of Governors Emeritus Board member.”

The Shriners Hospitals for Children network operates in 20 cities across the country. The Masonic fraternity, known as Shriners International, run the medical centers. Families served by Shriners need not be related to the order or other Freemason activities, and treatment is paid for by donations and endowments.

McCrane figured that few, if any, of his fellow Guardians wanted to rise early on an off day to join him at the hospital. Instead, several of his teammates greeted him in the morning, including fellow special teamer and long snapper Scott Daly. Quarterback Chad Kanoff, running back Darius Victor, offensive lineman Maea Teuhema, and defensive end Rykeem Yates also joined the caravan of hope.

“I was planning on going to the hospital by myself, and I had brought it up with a couple of other guys and they said, hey, you know, bring that up at the team meeting. That might be something that that other guys want to join in,” McCrane recalled. “I was glad to see a handful of guys show up and want to give some of their time on an early morning, on an off day.”

The kicker’s focus now centers toward on-field activities with kickoff approaching on Feb. 9. Nonetheless, McCrane is still pleased to see that the Guardians are already making a footprint in the community. He hopes they continue to do so once the team returns to the East Coast.

“We’re XFL, and that’s my sole focus right now,” McCrane said. “If we have an off day here or there, of course, I’d love to do something.”

A relationship with fellow former Kansas resident and Shriners leader Jeffrey Sowder could certainly help. McCrane met the Shriners Imperial Potentate at the 2018 East-West Shrine Bowl and said he hopes to carry that connection on.

In gridiron matters, the Guardians recently partook in joint practices with both the DC Defenders and Tampa Bay Vipers. The latter will be the Guardians’ opening-weekend opponent at MetLife Stadium next month.

New York Guardians
Photo Courtesy of the New York Guardians

Joint practices have provided each of the XFL’s eight teams a chance to test out the league’s new rules.

McCrane and his fellow specialists are one of the parties most affected by the innovations the XFL has introduced. The league has eschewed kicking on extra points, but kickoffs have been given a new format. Only the kicker and returner will be allowed to move prior to the ball reaching the latter’s hands or hitting the ground for three seconds. Other players will line up five yards apart from each other.

It will create a bit of an adjustment period for McCrane, but he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“It’ll definitely make the game a lot more interesting and a lot more strategic,” McCrane said of the new rules. “I think it’s a tough balance (on kickoffs). It’s common sense to try and avoid as much long-term injury as possible. If there’s a way to make it more interesting for the fanbase in any aspects of special teams, (the league) will keep it in play and keep the players safe also.”

McCrane, 25, is one of several players on the Guardians’ roster to bring NFL experience with them. He spent the 2018 season kicking for three different teams, booting a game-winner in his NFL debut with the Oakland Raiders.

Prior to the pros, McCrane departed Kansas State as the second-most accurate kicker in Big 12 history (86.4%).

Donations to Shriners Hospitals for Children can be made here.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490.