No more UAB football? Ex-players hold spring game anyway
Former UAB players are making sure the Blazers get at least one more game at Legion Field.
They'll gather Saturday for the Sons of UAB alumni flag football game while other schools around the country are planning spring scrimmages for their current teams and fans. Coach Bill Clark started the alumni game last spring after his hiring and it's being kept alive this year though the program was shut down in December.
Former players, alumni and supporters decided to hold it again for reasons extending beyond staying connected to UAB and former teammates.
Lee Miller, the Blazers former kicker, expects some 120 program alums to participate, including Carolina Panthers teammates Joe Webb and Darrin Reaves. They haven't given up hope of a football revival.
''Obviously there's a huge, somber cloud hanging over the university, really, over the whole football issue right now,'' said Miller, now a high school soccer coach. ''I think the vibe toward this event is positive, but there's always this undercurrent. The next question is, `How can we get the program back?' There's a lot of people out there, including me, that are trying to make that happen.''
It's anybody's guess if it will. University President Ray Watts announced the shutdown shortly after UAB became bowl eligible after a decade of struggles and coaching changes, citing the expense of sustaining a competitive program.
A task force has employed a firm to reevaluate the study cited in Watts' decision. The Blazers' status in Conference USA is in limbo, and student and faculty groups have issued no-confidence votes against Watts.
Cutting football was a body blow to the fans but even more devastating to players like Miller and Josh Evans, the first Blazer to play in the NFL.
''It's grief,'' said Evans, who plans to drive from Atlanta for the game. ''I still can't believe it's over with. I never would have thought this would happen. I always thought it would get better. I'm still in complete shock.''
The game is expected to include players from every step of UAB's football evolution over a quarter century, from club level starting in 1989 to Division I-A starting in 1996. Miller said it's not clear if Clark will be able to make it because of a family commitment.
Players from his 2014 team expected to attend include speedy receiver and return man J.J. Nelson, who is hoping to be selected in the NFL draft. Also expected to participate are kicker Ty Long and 27-year-old tight end Tristan Henderson, among the players whose emotional responses when Watts told the team of his decision were captured on a video that has drawn more than a million views on YouTube.
Darrin Reaves Sr., a former UAB running back, is expected to attend along with sons Darrin Jr. and Marcus, also ex-Blazers.
More than 40 underclassmen have transferred to other teams. That group included linebacker Jake Ganus (Georgia), offensive tackle Victor Salako (Oklahoma State) and running back Jordan Howard (Indiana).
This is a chance for others to express their support for UAB football's history and, perhaps, future.
''It's not what you really want, but it's a chance to kind of get everybody from the program's past together and say, `Hey, we still love this and this is a huge part of our university and we want to celebrate that,''' Miller said.