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  • Kevin Scarbinsky

On this spot, UAB Football came to life - and refused to die

Updated: Aug 26, 2019

Can I have a brick?

That's what the former UAB Football players wanted to know. Head Coach Bill Clark had invited them to Saturday's practice, not coincidentally just before demolition began on the old dentist office of a football building that once was the hub of their daily existence.

That building would've embarrassed a lot of high schools in this state. It discouraged a lot of potential Blazers with other options. It stood as a ramshackle reminder of the obstacles this program had to overcome in its rocky road from club sport to Division III to Division I-AA to Division I-A, now known as the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Oh, and from life to death to rebirth.

Clark remembered his first team meeting there in 2014, looking out at a room full of players who struggled to make eye contact, players all too familiar with losing records and coaching changes. He described the mood in the room as "sadness."

As Clark said of those 2014 players, "They were beat down."

History will record that they didn't stay that way.

Everyone who was there on the afternoon of Dec. 2, 2014, remembers a hot, bubbling cauldron of raw emotions ranging from sadness to anger to rage to disbelief. That was the day UAB President Ray Watts told the team the university was discontinuing its football program.

That was the low point of a long journey through a deep valley, miles deeper than Black Friday and "sorry, no, you can't have Jimbo."

But if all you saw when you looked at that building was staggering neglect, you missed something more essential to the ongoing story.

A lot of good people made that building their home. Players, coaches and staffers came together to instill overcoming your circumstances into the program's DNA. The 2000 team made Nick Saban question his decision to take the LSU job. The 2004 team smoked Baylor and TCU. The 2014 team dismantled Southern Miss in the face of its own impending demise.

To a man (just to name a few), from Izell Reese to Zac Woodfin to Jake Ganus, Darrell Hackney to Joe Webb to Jordan Howard, Dr. Jim Hilyer to Watson Brown to Clark, they created the spirit that refused to take "no more football" for an answer.

That building was the physical and spiritual cornerstone of UAB Football. As the sparkling, forward-thinking Football Operations Center and Legacy Pavilion came to life and towered above it, the contrast between past and present hit you in the chest like Spencer Brown meeting an unsuspecting, run-supporting cornerback.

"It was good as a symbol of how far we've come," Clark said, "but it's time to move on."

Enter the wrecker. The final use of the space is still to be determined, Clark said Wednesday. He said the program could use a partial grass practice field there. He still has a vision of a national center for sports medicine excellence on campus, perhaps at that intersection, although "a lot of pieces have to come together to make that happen."

What that corner eventually becomes may not matter as much as what it always will represent. Put it on a plaque: On this spot, UAB Football came to life - and refused to die.

#UABFootball #BillClark #WinAsOne