April 01, 2017

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) Timothy Alexander has seen UAB football rise from the ashes, with new facilities and support growing for an oft-overlooked program.

Having helped rally the student body and community behind the program's rebirth, Alexander figured his fellow UAB supporters would like what they saw when their new team took the field for Saturday's spring game at Legion Field. And next season, too.

''They're bigger, they're faster,'' Alexander said. ''This is not like the UAB team that you've seen in the past.''

It wasn't just the typical spring game, but a glimpse at the near future for a fan base still celebrating football's return. The first game back is Sept. 2 against Alabama A&M.

The spring event, which drew an announced crowd of 7,822, had typically been small enough in the past to be held at the school's soccer field.

Alexander, a recent UAB graduate who was paralyzed from the waist down in a 2006 car accident, watched from the sideline like usual as quarterbacks A.J. Erdely and Tyler Johnston helped lead the Blazers on the field. He's a fulltime motivational speaker who also serves as the football team's director of character, exhorting players during and before the scrimmage.

Shortly after UAB shut down football, rifle and bowling in December 2014 for lack of financial resources, Alexander went into coach Bill Clark's office and said he wanted to help bring those programs back . UAB brought the sports back the following summer after an outpouring of support.

Over a 15-month period, UAB supporters pledged more than $40 million, enabling the school to build a covered turf football practice field and new multi-purpose football building that's expected to be completed in July.

Alexander helped lead the student movement and rally supportive proclamations from 56 city councils - and is now taking a tour to thank all 56.

The fans in green and gold have plenty to celebrate with a roster that Clark had to rebuild almost from scratch . Alexander said a woman driving a bus full of kids called out to him during the week, ''We'll see you Saturday.''

A number of fans greeted the team when the buses arrived at Legion Field two hours before kickoff. Clark said the sight made him emotional.

''I told my wife I'm glad I had my sunglasses on,'' he said. ''That was a big deal. That was a big deal to get there two hours before. I saw somebody say something about an April day, who would show up? They showed up today. For any spring game anywhere, that was a big deal.''

Defensive lineman Shaq Jones, who stuck around the past two years waiting for the revival, also was struck by the fan support.

''We all loved it,'' Jones said. ''It was a different feeling on the sidelines from before because we never had that much support from the local people.''

Kennard Backman, a Detroit Lions tight end, was among about 15 players from the 2014 team watching at Legion Field on Saturday. Backman drove from Atlanta with ex-teammates Bobby Baker and Alonzo McGee, and said he definitely sees greater support for the team nowadays.

''I see the buzz everywhere,'' he said. ''It's definitely exciting.''

NOTES: Johnston completed 8 of 12 passes for 161 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown pass to Collin Lisa. The former Alabama Mr. Football also ran for a 7-yard score. Erdely was 7-of-10 passing for 107 yards and a 38-yard touchdown to tight end Thair Bakes while rushing for 59 yards. ... Lisa, a holdover from the 2014 team, had 115 yards on five catches. ... The Blazers' search for a go-to tailback has probably narrowed down to Kalin Heath (79 yards), Donnie Lee (68) and James Noble (62).

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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