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UAB Blazers return to football field after two-year hiatus

Shaq Jones (left) runs through drills during the first practice as UAB's football program starts up again after two years on Monday. (Butch Dill / Associated Press)
Shaq Jones (left) runs through drills during the first practice as UAB's football program starts up again after two years on Monday. (Butch Dill / Associated Press)
By John Zenor Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The UAB Blazers suited up, worked out and showered in their new football building. They practiced on new turf fields under a pavilion that shielded them from the Alabama sun.

The Blazers began fall camp Monday savoring those facility upgrades – and the chance to actually prepare for a game. It’s been awhile.

“Those (are) things that most people would probably take for granted, but we don’t,” UAB coach Bill Clark said. “Hopefully we’ll just settle in and it’ll be normal but it’s a big deal to be here.”

That about sums it up. Most college teams are also gearing up for the season, or getting ready to, but for the Blazers it’s absolutely a big deal to be here.

UAB faces Alabama A&M on Sept. 2 at Legion Field, some 32 months after UAB shut down football, bowling and rifle citing lack of financial resources. The programs were resuscitated some six months later after an outpouring of support that generated $40 million over a 15-month span.

Most of the players taking the field Monday, and all the assistant coaches except defensive coordinator David Reeves, weren’t around in 2014.

“It’s actually here now,” said 25-year-old linebacker Tevin Crews, one of the holdovers. “There’s so much excitement swarming around. Everybody’s locking in. We’re more focused. You leave here late at night and you look at Snapchat or something like that, and there’s about 20 guys out on the practice field getting extra work in. There’s a lot of excitement.”

Some of UAB’s first signees after the reboot – and the returnees – spent the past two falls practicing and working out. As for games, they got their football fix watching former teammates play elsewhere, including running back Jordan Howard, who went to Indiana and then ran for 1,313 yards as a rookie for the Chicago Bears.

Crews and fellow linebacker Shaq Jones have been getting encouragement from Howard and other ex-teammates.

“It’s been two years, so we’re itching to go hit someone else,” said Jones, who was a junior in 2014. “We’re tired of hitting one another. We want to go out and inflict pain on someone else, as the rules allow.

“You can expect an excited team, a passionate team, a team that’s just happy to do what we do.”

Like many teams around the country, UAB has a quarterback battle. Junior college transfer A.J. Erdely, who started his career at Middle Tennessee, opened camp as the favorite with redshirt freshman Tyler Johnston III right behind him.

Unlike those teams, they get a daily reminder of how far they’ve come when they step into the new Football Operations Center or under Legacy Pavilion. It makes them feel beholden to a city that has always been more of a stronghold for wealthier Southeastern Conference programs Alabama and Auburn.

“Every day we go out there and you can’t help but think about all the people who fought for us and marched for this team,” Crews said. “We appreciate those guys every day. Every day we’re in the weight room, it’s mentioned: A lot of people are depending on you. We have that in the back of our heads every single day.”

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