UAB Everywhere: Ex-Blazers stay connected as they branch out
UAB football is both nowhere and everywhere this season.
The Blazers are on hiatus after the school announced it was shutting down the program in December only to reinstate it in June. UAB and coach Bill Clark will field a team again in 2017, but the NCAA allowed UAB's players to transfer without restrictions after the program was initially discontinued. This season more than two dozen former Blazers are on the rosters of 15 FBS teams, from UMass to San Diego State.
Another 21 are scattered throughout FCS and Division II.
This Saturday looks like the biggest of the season so far in college football, with five games matching ranked teams and another three in which a ranked squad plays an undefeated team. Former Blazers will be involved in some of those big games, giving a glimpse of what could have been at UAB this season.
UAB AT IU
''It's going to be a challenge, but everybody welcomes a challenge,'' Howard said.
Howard was one of the nation's best kept secrets for the Blazers last season, finishing seventh in the nation in rushing at 132.25 yards per game.
The 6-foot-1, 228-pound junior was maybe the most sought after player to leave UAB last winter, and he is living up to his billing. He is averaging 168.75 yards per game, second in the nation. He was co-Big Ten player of the week after running for 168 yards on 33 carries against Wake Forest last Saturday.
''I had very high expectations for myself and so far things have gone well,'' he said. ''I feel like I'm making that impact, but I'm not doing it alone.''
Howard said the breakup of UAB's team has strengthened the bond he has with his former teammates.
''Even though we're separated and we're away from each other, it has helped us become closer because we talk and things, and we're doing things that we might not have gotten a chance to do if we were still at UAB,'' he said.
Such as trying to take down the No. 1 team in the nation.
UAB AT UGA
The No. 8 Bulldogs (4-0) host No. 13 Alabama in a game that could put the Crimson Tide's playoff hopes in critical condition. It's the first time Georgia-Alabama has rotated onto the Southeastern Conference schedule in seven years.
UAB fans only wish they were so lucky to play `Bama that often.
The Crimson Tide has never played UAB, something which irks Blazers supporters to no end. Blazers fans also blame Alabama alums for driving the movement to disband the program.
After leading UAB in tackles last season, Ganus moved right into the starting lineup for one of the best defenses in the SEC.
''For a guy to come in on such short notice and play significant time and be able to get out there and make some calls, get people lined up and all that kind of thing, it is impressive,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
Ganus has 19 tackles and an interception for his new team, and life is good.
''I think I'm past the anger stage,'' Ganus said. ''I'm here now, at the best school in America. It's awesome. I couldn't be happier.''
UAB AT USA
The largest contingent of former UAB players landed at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, about a 4-hour drive down I-65 from Birmingham.
Eight ex-Blazers followed former UAB offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent to the Jaguars. Vincent had previously been quarterbacks coach at South Alabama under Joey Jones, and when the UAB program folded, Jones brought him back.
Former Blazers make up about half of South Alabama's starting offense, including quarterback Cody Clements and three receivers.
''We had talked about staying together and keeping the UAB family,'' receiver Josh Magee said.
He added: ''I wish we would have got more guys.''
All those familiar faces helped the transfers acclimate to their new surroundings, though Jones said it was important for team chemistry to get the new and old players better acquainted. That took some time.
''When we found out they were going back to Birmingham (on weekends during the offseason) I talked to some of my players about getting those guys to stay with them and make them feel welcome,'' Jones said.
Receiver D.J. Vinson, a UAB transfer who grew up near Birmingham, said going bowling with his new teammates helped break the ice.
''It took about three or four weeks, but I felt after that point it was really a moot issue,'' Jones said,
For Magee, it was the second time he transferred to South Alabama. He was a walk-on redshirt at Alabama in 2012 and transferred to Jaguars the next year, but never played. He got an NCAA waiver to transfer to UAB and play immediately in 2014 to be closer to his father who was dealing with serious health problems.
Magee was able to give his once and future teammates the lowdown on South Alabama.
''I just kept it real with them,'' Magee said.
Magee, Vinson and fellow UAB transfer Gerald Everett are the top three receivers for the Jaguars (2-2) heading into Saturday's game against Sun Belt Conference and in-state rival Troy, when the receivers will line up against another UAB transfer in defensive back Lamarcus Farmer.
Magee and Vinson said they keep in regular contact with Farmer and several other former UAB teammates, including Howard.
''I sent out a tweet Saturday saying Jordan for Heisman,'' Vinson said.
The UAB players have mixed feelings about what has transpired the last 10 months. Getting the program pulled out from under them was awful, but they feel fortunate to have gotten exciting new opportunities. Seeing the program restored was frustrating, but they were happy for Clark.
UAB went 6-6 last year, its best season in 10 years. When the former Blazers see how well their ex-teammates are doing at other schools, they can't help but believe they would have contended for a Conference USA title this year.
They take solace in knowing their success helped save UAB football.
''We know we changed the program,'' Vinson said.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP