Former ESJ standouts compete in United States Football League
Published 10:25 am Saturday, April 15, 2023
RESERVE — Two former East St. John football standouts have been drafted by the Pittsburgh Maulers and will play this weekend in the United States Football League opener in Birmingham, Alabama.
Xavier Lewis (Class of 2015) and CJ Turner (Class of 2017) will go up against the New Orleans Breakers at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 16. The game will be available to watch on Fox Sports.
Both young men will play under first-year Maulers coach Ray Horton, who played for the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys and has since served as a secondary coach and defensive coordinator for several NFL teams.
The United States Football League (USFL) is a professional football minor league that was revived in 2022. The league is currently comprised of eight teams from four host cities. The eight teams carry on the names of the teams that competed in the original iteration of the USFL in the 1980s.
The Maulers are based in Canton, Ohio and will play 10 games this season, starting with the April 16 opener in Birmingham and ending with a June 17 game against the New Jersey Generals in Canton.
Both Xavier Lewis and CJ Turner caught the attention of Southeastern Louisiana University’s defensive coach Jarren Horton, who encouraged them to take their talents to the USFL.
Lewis graduated from East St. John as a four-star prospect who had played multiple positions including defensive back, quarterback, kicker, wide receiver, punt returner and more. He was ranked No. 13 in the nation by ESPN at cornerback following a successful senior season.
Lewis played his first few college seasons with the LSU Tigers in 2015-2016, recording 14 tackles over 15 games. He later transferred to Southeastern Louisiana University, where he recorded 66 tackles and earned All-Southland Conference honors during his debut season.
After college, Lewis joined the Conquerors in the Spring League and Major League Football’s Alabama Airborne before becoming a defensive back for the Maulers this past fall.
“Everything is earned, not given,” Lewis said. “I’ve earned everything I’ve gotten from high school up until now. I had to work for it. I’ve always had a working mentality. You’re going to get whatever you put in.”
Lewis said his versatility is his biggest strength on the football field. He can easily shift between a number of positions in the secondary, and carefully studying film has made him quick to anticipate the opposing team’s next move.
This season, Lewis hopes to show his abilities and earn All-USFL accolades.
“We’re going to be good. We have all the pieces – offense, defense, special teams. Our general manager Lonnie Young did a good job of putting us together,” Lewis said. “Tune in for the journey, because this is just one stop in it. Hopefully, if God says the same and I have a good season, I’ll get a training camp invite this year. If not, I will come back and try it again.”
CJ Turner knew he wanted to take his football journey to the next level from the time he was a junior in high school. Initially balancing football and baseball for the Wildcats, Turner made the decision to focus solely on football. His efforts paid off when he earned first team all-district and honorable mention all-state honors as a senior.
Turner spent all five of his college seasons at Southeastern Louisiana University, recording some of the most prolific receiving seasons in the Lions’ history. During the 2019 season, he played in all 13 games and led the team with 78 catches and 963 receiving yards. In the 2020/Spring 2021 season, he earned first team All-Louisiana and first team All-Southland Conference accolades.
“I’ve been an underdog my whole career,” Turner said. “Especially in high school, I felt like I was one of the better receivers, but I was kind of undersized. I’ve been that type of guy to work hard every day.”
Turner has consistently proved himself to be a playmaker on the field, and he’s excited to see what opportunities will follow his first season in the USFL.
“Everybody gets along, and the coaches are real good. I’m really excited for this opportunity,” Turner said. “My goal is to better myself as a receiver and a person in general. I’m already in Ohio and I’m all alone, so I am going to need to make more open relationships. As a player, I am going to sharpen my game.”
Turner’s message to family and friends watching at home is to “just keep grinding and never stop.”
The Pittsburgh Maulers schedule can be found online at www.theusfl.com/pittsburgh-maulers-team-schedule