Tyler Palka of Saline was excited to help the XFL kick off its season Saturday afternoon as a member of the DC Defenders, who defeated the Seattle Dragons, 31-19, before a near capacity crowd of 17,163 in front of the DC fans at Audi Field.
Palka, who played for his father, Joe Palka at Saline High School before playing his college ball at Gannon University where he was a quarterback and receiver.
Palka got on the field while playing on special teams and on several plays at receiver with his mother, Kaleen, and father in the stands cheering him on.
“It was very, very exciting and I’m very fortunate to be in the place that I’m at right now," Palka said, "and to be able to be on that first opening kickoff of the first game of the new XFL was very exciting and very intense and something I can check off my list of dreams and things that I’ve accomplished. I started on all four special teams and I played six or seven snaps on offense, and I think as we get going that could progress into more. Everything is week to week and day to day, but I probably played around 30 plays total.”
The Defenders quarterback is Cardale Jones, who helped Ohio State win the national championship in 2014. Palka is playing for Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton, the former Michigan assistant coach.
“I really like Coach Pep," Palka said. "I think he is a very cerebral guy, a very knowledgeable guy and a very good speaker, so he doesn’t have to say much for us to understand what his point is, and what I saw in the game is that he’s very patient and he remains calm, doesn’t get too high or too low."
And, Tyler is also a fan of his father.
“He’s very excited for me, and really for my dad it’s almost like I never stopped playing for him, his coaching days for me has really never ended,” Palka said. “A lot of our conversations, if it’s not about family it’s about football, and it’s all about getting to that next level, whether it was from Saline to college or college to the pros."
Palka said his spot with the Defenders has been part of a "long journey since minicamp."
“I was fortunate to get picked up in the supplemental draft," Palka said, "and I had to work my way through a large group of talented receivers since there was only five that dressed, so to be one of the five that dressed is something that I’m pretty excited about, but it took a lot of work and a lot of focus ..."
“The competition level is high and that’s one thing that I realized as soon as I got drafted. (I) noticed that my teammates, we have guys who were first-round draft picks, second-round draft picks, national champions, guys who have been in the NFL for years, guys who are trying to get back to the NFL, so the competition as a whole is very, very, very tough."
Palka’s journey was much longer than competing in minicamp back in early December. He gave longtime NFL agent Doc Ping of Saline a call, and Ping got the ball rolling.
“I was in the CFL, then I got released during training camp and then I signed with the Arena Football League and played two games, and Doc ended up using his resources and got me invited to a showcase back in July in St. Louis,” Palka said. “The showcase was like an NFL combine. It was an invite-only group and then the (XFL) coaches could watch and evaluate me, so getting me in that showcase was huge.
“I’ve always been a believer that if I can get the opportunity I’ll make the most of it, so for me to get that chance with the help of Doc and getting in front of more pro scouts ultimately helped me get in front of the guys that allowed me to make the 52 and play 30 plays (Saturday).”