Special – Conference USA Football Media Days – Sidebar on UAB

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, July 25th, 2014

Clark
By Bo Carter

IRVING, Texas – UAB is sandwiched between two perennial football powers in the Southeastern Conference – Alabama and Auburn.
The Blazers have been to one bowl game in their previous 23 seasons of football, dropped a 59-40 decision to host Hawai’i in the 2004 Sheraton Aloha Bowl under then-head coach Watson Brown, have been 23-61 in their last seven seasons under head coaches Neil Callaway and Garrick McGee, and play in one of the most football-crazy cities in the nation.
So what would give new head coach Bill Clark and standout seniors WR Jamarcus Nelson and Diaheem Watkins reason for optimism?
Well, there are several factors, and it takes just moments to enumerate them as the Blazers look toward an Aug. 3 reporting date and Aug, 30 season opener at Legion Field against in-state rival Troy of the Sun Belt Conference at 11 a.m. with a Fox College Sports national telecast.
For one thing there is historic Legion Field.
New UAB head coach Bill Clark, 11-4 in his only season at Jacksonville State in 2013 and a successful mentor on every level on the prep scene in Alabama, appreciates the tradition and home field at the ageless facility.
“It doesn’t get much bigger than playing at Legion Field, which has hosted some of the most historic college games,” Clark related. “They also have had high school all-star games, the Birmingham Bowl and many other major events there.
“I remember playing in the Little League Football championship game there when I was a kid,” Nelson said, “and I have heard about games many years ago such as the Toy Bowl (a benefit game featuring future Auburn Heisman Trophy winner and current Samford head coach Pat Sullivan one year). There is just a lot of tradition, and it’s a great place to play games.”
“I never played there in high school or youth football before I came to UAB,” Watkins, a 6-4, 257-pound defender from Brent, Ala., via Bibb County High School, said. “It makes you appreciate college football,a nd there are many stories told about it by the people in Birmingham and at UAB.”
Nelson, a fleet, 5-11, 160-pound three-year standout for the Blazers from Willie Mays’ youth home area in Midfield, Ala., exudes excitement not only about his final year at UAB but also about the new 13-team divisional alignment in Conference USA and its challenges.
“It is not an easy league,” he said at Conference USA media day here Wednesday. “We are ready for the season. If we can get the passing game going again and the line keeps opening up holes for the running game, we’re going to be okay.”
Clark expressed similar sentiments after a solid haul of junior college players to bolster depth on both sides of the line.
“We have some size and speed on offense behind the line,” he stated, “and we had to go sign some junior college talent up front. Having Jordan Howard (145 carries for 881 yards and a 6.1 average in 2013) is a big plus for us.”
Watkins echoed hopes of improvement for a young defense, which also was strengthened by 2014 signings.
“We have to be much stouter defensively,” he said, “and the coaches emphasized that to us in spring practice. We’re going to have more depth this year, and that will help.”
Clark also is encouraged by signs of a program turnaround and the assets Birmingham affords for the student-athletes.
“There was a recent survey where Birmingham was rated among the Top 10 cities nationally in the rebirth of downtown,” he said. “We have a top-notch campus near the downtown area, one of the top medical schools in the country and just a wide variety of great things to offer our football recruits.”
Clark also has a long list of friends from the Alabama high school ranks, and he does not hesitate to contact them about possible prospects.
“I have known and have been associated with the football program at UAB through clinics and coaches on the staff for a number of years,” he explained. “I got a chance to meet and work with Watson Brown, and there is a good feeling about the program from our coaches statewide.
With standouts such as the second team All-C-USA wideout Nelson (42 catches for 846 yards, 20.1 average, eight TDs, long gainer of 62 yards), Watkins and others emerging from a better-than-average signing class, the Blazers may be a factor in a short time in the C-USA race.
They actually came within an eyelash of upending eventual loop champion Rice before falling 37-34 in overtime last year at Legion Field in Game 11, and those showing give rise for optimism to Nelson.
“I love playing for UAB and with these teammates,” he stated. “Plus, I have a big family, and they don’t have to travel far to see me play. We’re really looking forward to our senior seasons, and I hope to show leadership by example. I’m not a real vocal leader, but I try to do it by my actions on and off the field.
With that recipe and a winning attitude in place, the UAB Blazers (still undefeated at the time of media days) have a shot at doing some damage when the open whistle sounds for 2014.

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