February 01, 2017

The UAB Blazers laid another foundation in the football program's restart.

Blazers coach Bill Clark finished up a 20-player recruiting class with nine high school players Wednesday, the latest building block seven months from the season opener against Alabama A&M. It was about more than star ratings and recruiting rankings but a more long-term view of the program that had previously loaded up on transfers and junior college players.

''Obviously this is another big day for us in the history of the return and bringing our program back,'' Clark said.

The nine players signed Wednesday joined a slightly bigger group that has already enrolled. The NCAA had allowed UAB to play catch-up with two bigger recruiting classes since the program was reborn. The university shut down football, bowling and rifle in December 2014 - after Clark's debut season - citing lack of financial support. Thanks to a groundswell from business leaders, alumni, fans and even students, UAB restarted football some six months later.

Now, the facilities are undergoing a significant overhaul courtesy of the increased flow of money. The Blazers have a new covered practice field and a two-story, 46,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to open in July.

The latest signees include Spanish Fort, Alabama, linebacker Thomas Johnston, brother of UAB quarterback Tyler Johnston. Thomas is the state's all-time leader with 675 career tackles and is rated a four-star prospect who was recruited by schools like Arkansas, Auburn, Iowa and Mississippi.

Clark called his signing ''maybe the biggest splash in the history of UAB football'' in recruiting.

''Having his brother was important,'' he said. ''But he made his own decision. He took his trips, he got all of his offers and for us to come out of that as the destination or the choice really puts the spotlight on where this program is headed.''

Eight of the nine players signed Wednesday were from Alabama and four were from the Birmingham area. Clark said the local focus was by design as he's been trying to convince area high school coaches and players that the commitment to football at UAB has changed from the old days.

''It goes without saying that Alabama recruiting and Birmingham recruiting and high school players was a big deal to us this year,'' Clark said. ''We really wanted to make a concerted effort to get back in the area and the state of Alabama.''

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For the full list: http://www.uabsports.com/

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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