How a kicker went from UCF to YouTube to the UFL: Deestroying is chasing his dreams



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Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a better moment. Neither could a popular YouTube star.

Donald De La Haye was standing on top of Koko Head, a large cliff that overlooks the North Pacific Ocean in Oahu, Hawaii, on Jan. 17. De La Haye, popularly known as “Deestroying” to his 5.81 million YouTube subscribers and 4.7 million followers on TikTok, was on the island to host a one-on-one youth football competition. After the competition concluded, the former collegiate kicker wanted to get in a kicking workout. However, the session didn’t go as well as he hoped.

To clear his mind, De La Haye decided to make a 1½-mile trek to the top of Koko Head the following day. Much like the rough kicking session he wanted to forget, the 1,048 steps to the top of the headland was difficult, but worth it.

While soaking up breathtaking views of the Honolulu shoreline, De La Haye, a former UCF football player, got a text message that marked the beginning of a new chapter in his life. The message caught him off guard because it came with an offer that would bring him back to the game that he loved.

“Donald … you have a heck of a kicking background.” De La Haye read the text aloud on his YouTube vlog. “Aside from your social media success, would you be interested in kicking for the Brahmas?”

That text was from Marc Lillibridge, the general manager of the San Antonio Brahmas, a team in the newly formed United Football League (UFL). De La Haye received the message while hiking, but did not see it until he had reached the peak.

Nearly seven years since making the tough decision to declare himself ineligible to play college football, De La Haye, 27, is again chasing his dream of becoming an NFL kicker. This time, he is vlogging the process on his YouTube channel in a series called “Project NFL.”

“It just felt like everything came together at the perfect time, I lowkey could have cried in that moment,” De La Haye told ESPN. “On the top of this amazing beautiful [headland] looking around and screaming. It couldn’t have felt more movie-like.”

De La Haye played on scholarship for UCF during the 2015 season. Coincidently, that’s the same year that he started his YouTube channel. His page now features a wide variety of videos ranging from his kicking content and youth football competitions to him taking on NFL stars in one-on-one challenges. But once his page gained traction — enough that he was profiting from the content — the NCAA made De La Haye make a choice in 2016: keep playing collegiate football or continue to pursue his then-budding career as a YouTube content creator.

De La Haye played college football before student-athletes were signing NIL deals — when the NCAA wasn’t allowing them to profit from their likeness. As a result, De La Haye made the difficult decision to step away from organized football to continue growing his YouTube channel.

In the “Project NFL” series, De La Haye offers his YouTube subscribers an inside look at what all goes into the pursuit of his NFL aspirations. Getting the offer to compete for a roster spot on the Brahmas was the first step in that journey. And he gets to do it in the UFL’s inaugural season.

The UFL was created following the merger of the XFL and the United States Football League (USFL). The league consists of eight teams comprising former collegiate and professional players and coaches who will compete in a 10-game regular season that started on March 30. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a part-owner of the UFL.

Although De La Haye got the offer from Lillibridge to compete for a spot on the team, nothing was guaranteed. To earn the Brahmas’ kicking position, De La Haye would have to beat out veteran NFL kicker Matt Ammendola, who has played three seasons in the NFL, most recently with the Houston Texans in 2023.

The battle consisted of multiple head-to-head field goal and kickoff competitions. Throughout training camp, both De La Haye and Ammendola would take turns kicking field goals from various spots on the field, as well as kickoffs to test for distance and hang time. De La Haye said that Ammendola is “a tough competitor.”

According to De La Haye, one of the most interesting parts of the competition was Ammendola’s gamesmanship.

“Kickers like to play mental games, especially when they’re competing against each other,” De La Haye told ESPN. “It’s little subtle things, like when you’re [on the field] warming up, they’ll come and put their football on my kicking sticks and start kicking.”

In addition to position battles, there were plenty of other areas where he had to make adjustments from his kicking on social media. Two of the biggest differences were having to kick with a snapper and a holder in lieu of using a stand to hold the ball in place, along with being prepared to kick in different weather conditions, instead of being able to pick and choose his kicking conditions for filming purposes.

“Our long-snapper Rex [Sunahara] and our punter/holder Brad Wing have been awesome,” De La Haye told ESPN. They’ve been around the NFL, so they’re kind of mentoring me and teaching me the ways. I just love hanging out with them, and we’re able to handle business when that time comes.

Even with his previous experience — he played in high school, a year at UCF and did a training camp stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League in 2019 — there were questions about how he would adjust after spending so much time away from organized football.

After a close competition, De La Haye was informed by the team on March 10 that he beat out Ammendola for the roster spot. According to Lillibridge, De La Haye had no issues making the proper adjustments and, more importantly, the Brahmas love what he brings to the team.

“Donald is a YouTube star, so I wanted to know if he was going to take [trying to play in the UFL] seriously,” Lillibridge told ESPN. “After having a conversation with Donald, I really felt comfortable that he was taking this seriously, and wanted not only a shot to kick in this league but [also] a shot in the NFL. So, we signed him to a contract and after two weeks in camp, the staff and I decided that he’s our guy heading into the season.”

Lillibridge connected with De La Haye about an opportunity with the Brahmas after getting a recommendation from former NFL and XFL kicker Nick Novak. Lillibridge reached out to Novak looking for a kicker with a “big leg” to compete with Ammendola. As someone familiar with De La Haye’s ability and his YouTube content, the name caught the GM’s interest.

Considering the UFL has different kicking rules than the NCAA and the NFL, Lillibridge believes having a kicker with a leg as powerful as De La Haye’s could be an advantage. UFL kickers will line up at the 20-yard line for kickoffs, while kickoffs in the NCAA and the NFL are from the 35-yard line. Kicking off from the 20-yard line significantly increases the chance of a return by the receiving team, rather than kickoffs booming into the end zone, as fans are used to in the NFL.

“We don’t do extra points [in the UFL], so you want a guy that can be consistent at kicking field goals,” Lillibridge told ESPN. “But what you need is a guy who can help your defense flip the field. So [on the kickoff] most legit guys can kick it to the [opposing] 20-yard line or even the 15-yard line. But Donald can get it inside the 10.

“That’s an advantage for our cover team and our defense. If we can force a team to start on the 15 or the 20 instead of the 30-yard line three or four times in a game, that can determine the outcome [of a game].”

There are also factors off the field that could have affected the YouTube star’s ability to earn the role. How would he get along with his teammates? Would the team be comfortable with his vlogging?

The organization has given him freedom to film workouts and practices, and his teammates have fully embraced him and the opportunities to be in his videos.

“Our whole staff and team, they’re amazing,” De La Haye told ESPN. “Obviously, there are certain things I can’t record, but they told me that I can do my thing.

“Not only is [my filming] good for the league, because I’m bringing more eyes. Not only is it good for me, because I get to document the whole journey and create new content that no one else is doing. But it’s also good for the fans and everyone watching.”

While De La Haye is still passionate about pursuing his goal of kicking in the NFL, he knows there is a chance he may not achieve that. Even if he falls short, De La Haye understands how impactful his journey on “Project NFL” has been to those who are following the vlogs and he would be content with knowing that he went after his dreams, rather than looking back with regrets later in life.

“I just want to be living proof to everybody watching that if you believe in something and you work hard enough, you can do anything you set your mind to,” De La Haye told ESPN. “You are your own limitations.”

De La Haye made his Brahmas debut on March 31 when the team hosted the D.C. Defenders, and San Antonio won 27-12. De La Haye did not attempt any field goals, but his kickoffs appeared to make the difference the team was looking for. In his five kickoffs, De La Haye averaged a league-leading 74.2 yards per kick. The Brahmas are one of only two teams (Memphis Showboats) that averaged 70 or more yards per kickoff.

De La Haye will be in action again Saturday when the Brahmas visit the Memphis Showboats (noon ET, ESPN).





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