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What brought former Redskins star Kurt Gouveia back to D.C. and the XFL? ‘I need football.’

Kurt Gouveia, seen here delivering a punishing hit on the Cowboys' Troy Aikman in 1991, returns to D.C. as a member of the Defenders' coaching staff with the revamped XFL. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

In June, Kurt Gouveia’s football life came full circle. The XFL relaunched with a February 2020 start date, and Washington’s franchise needed to fill out its coaching staff with accomplished assistants.

After playing in the original XFL at the end of his playing career, Gouveia toiled at all levels of coaching, working as an assistant at a high school, for multiple colleges, in NFL Europe and in the United Football League. Now came a chance to come back to the city in which he experienced his greatest professional success, having won two Super Bowls with the Redskins. Why take a chance with another spring football league when all previous iterations failed?

“I need football,” said Gouveia, 55, who joined the DC Defenders as linebackers coach. “I retired [from the NFL] in 2000 and I thought I could be able to walk away from it but I just can’t. I just have to be next to it, live it, breathe it, be a part of it — the excitement and the energy. Just the intensity, a man taking on another man proving who’s the best, who’s the strongest — that’s really exciting to me.”

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An eighth-round draft pick out of BYU in 1986, Gouveia played nine of his 13 NFL seasons with the Redskins and is perhaps best remembered for his third-quarter interception in Washington’s Super Bowl XXVI win over the Buffalo Bills, his third interception in three playoff games that year. He closed out his playing career with the Las Vegas Outlaws during the original XFL’s lone season in 2001.

Gouveia relished that year, saying it allowed him to gain a sense of closure on a long career playing the game he loves.

“I really enjoyed it,” Gouveia said in a recent interview. “It was a good time of my life. I retired from the NFL and had nothing to do. Basically my children [were] already out of school and going to college. I love the game of football, and I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to continue my football career.”

The Defenders offered the same chance for his coaching career. Gouveia spent the previous two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Division III Brevard College in North Carolina. With the Defenders practicing at Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex in the shadow of FedEx Field, his home for his final NFL season in 1999, Gouveia now instructs a group of young players hoping for a shot in the league in which he excelled.

“He’s doing this because he loves the game,” Defenders linebacker Scooby Wright said. “He’s doing it because he likes being around the guys, likes teaching, likes seeing guys reach their full potential. It definitely does make me … put in that extra little bit because I don’t want to disappoint Coach Gouveia because I know he cares. I know he truly cares about us as a linebacking group.”

As a sophomore at Arizona in 2014, Wright was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year after posting an NCAA-high 163 tackles and 14 sacks in 14 games. Injuries derailed his junior season, and he fell to the seventh round of the 2016 NFL draft. Now he’s among the pupils hoping to absorb as much knowledge as possible from Gouveia, who won a national championship as a player at BYU and is in the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.

“A lot of times coaches in the NFL, they don’t want to sit there and take the time with you and actually do any teaching,” Wright said. “Here, I’m actually getting taught the fundamentals about how to really play the game from the shoulders up to have it be more of a head-type game.”

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Defenders Coach Pep Hamilton, who grew up in D.C. a Redskins fan, said he appreciates Gouveia’s coaching style and adaptive approach.

“He’s a conceptual teacher,” Hamilton said. “He doesn’t expect that they’re going to play and use all the techniques or play the exact same way that he played. He understands that sometimes you have to be very specific and intentional in what you’re teaching a player based on what they need at that point in their development.”

Hamilton said Gouveia came highly recommended through former Defenders defensive coordinator Jeff FitzGerald, who resigned last month to be closer to family. FitzGerald was Gouveia’s linebackers coach with the Redskins in 1999. Gouveia, a Hawaii native whose full-time home is now in Charlotte, joined the staff of D.C.’s XFL franchise with reservations but some optimism.

“I was a little skeptical about the opportunity because of all the spring leagues and how many times the spring leagues had folded, especially the [Alliance of American Football] the year before, so I was really reserved about it,” Gouveia said. “I wasn’t sure it was going to happen, and I told them, ‘Yes.’ But I’m glad I made that opportunity and made that decision.”

With the league officially relaunching Saturday afternoon when the Defenders face the Seattle Dragons at Audi Field, Gouveia will continue an XFL journey 19 years in the making.

“It really gives me a fix to get back close to the football field and the contact and just the whole camaraderie of the players and the intensity that I miss,” Gouveia said. “The good thing about it, I don’t have to be on the field [getting] hit. I can be on the sideline and cheer for the players, and it’s not dangerous for me no more.”

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