UAB aims higher after two big seasons

Sports

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — UAB football has shocked the nation since returning from a two-year hiatus. Now the Blazers are aiming even higher.

Coach Bill Clark’s squad is coming off an 11-3 season that included the school’s first Conference USA title and bowl victory. It’s something few could have expected from a program that didn’t field a team in 2016 or 2017.

“Last year, obviously, was kind of that Cinderella story where we win the championship, we win the bowl game,” Clark said.

In two years since the school brought back its football program, UAB is 19-8 with back-to-back bowl appearances. But this year is a new beginning of its own. Clark estimates that juniors made up about two-thirds of his previous two rosters. Now, the majority of his players are former high school recruits, which means he has a much younger team.

“This will be a test for us,” he said. “I was sitting there with some scouts (this week) from some pro teams. I mean, we’re not talking about many guys, we just don’t have many seniors.”

Clark said before the opening practice of fall camp that he want his team to be a “real program” – the kind that maintains success and continues building. And that’s the goal this season: take the next step toward national prominence.

“I said that years ago, and I think people thought I was crazy. I said we want to be a top-25 team,” Clark said. “We want to be a team that people think about.”

But to reach that level, Clark said, they have to make the same kind of commitment as other highly-ranked programs.

“So if you want to be a top-25 team, let’s go look and see what those guys are spending on their program,” he said. “What is their investment?”

UAB’s investment is already significant. The school added a Football Operations Center prior to 2018, and crews are demolishing the old football building to make way for more improvements.

“We want to build a grass field, maybe a sports medicine deal at the end of that, the new stadium,” he said. “So those are the things that elevate our program to allow us to compete with the people across the country.”

Protective Life Stadium, as the new venue will be called, is already in the works. Crews have broken ground on it in Birmingham’s Uptown district, and it’s expected to be completed in time for the 2021 football season.

“We really do believe that when that stadium comes into play, we’ll have the best facilities in the country for anybody in the Group of Five, and better,” UAB athletics director Mark Ingram said.

But in the meantime, the Blazers will have to rely on a group of young players to maintain the success they’ve established.

“The future is really bright for us,” Clark said. “If we can find a way to really fight through these guys that have just not played a lot, it’s exciting.”

UAB opens the season Aug. 29 at Legion Field against Alabama State University.

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