For just the third time in program history, UAB has sent two players through the NFL Draft. It might end up being the last time UAB hears the school’s name mentioned during the NFL Draft.
UAB wide receiver J.J. Nelson was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the fifth round of the draft. In the sixth round, tight end Kennard Backman was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. The only other years UAB has had multiple draft picks in the same year are 2002 (Eddie Freeman and Bryan Thomas) and 1998 (Dainon Sidney and Izell Reese).
UAB made the decision to shut down the football program at the conclusion of last football season. The football program, despite being eligible for postseason play, did not play in any postseason bowl game. In the meantime, criticism of the handling of the shutdown and questions about why the program was shut down or if it had to be shutdown have continued. One report has suggested the program was financially viable.
We do not know whether or not UAB football will make a return. The earliest it was believed to be possible was 2016, and Conference USA has decided to close the door on UAB’s membership moving forward. Things look bleak, which is why moments like the NFL Draft should be cherished by those closely associated to the UAB football family.
They don’t have their own football program anymore, but that doesn’t mean they never had a program. As scores of college football programs undergo spring games on Saturday to prepare for the future, former UAB players will gather for their own spring game to honor the past.
“It’s not what you really want, but it’s a chance to kind of get everybody from the program’s past together and say, ‘Hey, we still love this and this is a huge part of our university and we want to celebrate that,'” former Blazers kicker Lee Miller told the Associated Press.
UAB canceled its football program following the season, joining Pacific as the only Division I schools to shutter football in the past quarter-century.
In what they’re calling the Sons of UAB game, 120 former players are expected to gather for a flag football game at Legion Field. Included among that group are former NFL players Josh Evans, Joe Webb and Darrin Reaves, as well as NFL hopeful and return man extraordinaire J.J. Nelson.
“It’s grief,” Evans told the AP. “I still can’t believe it’s over with. I never would have thought this would happen. I always thought it would get better. I’m still in complete shock.”
The future outlook of UAB football may or may not change after the school shut down the program at the conclusion of the 2014 season, but Tuesday was one final opportunity for some UAB football players to come together one more time. A small handful of Blazers football players — wide receiver J.J. Nelson, defensive end Diaheem Watkins, tight end Kennard Backman and kicker Ty Long — took part in a pro day event in front of NFL scouts at Samford University, hoping to catch the eye of the NFL.
“One of things we talked about was competing everyday,” said former UAB coach Bill Clark, said to Al.com. “I’ve had two or three different trainers come up to me and say, ‘Coach, your guys are some of the best I’ve been around’ and that’s what I want to hear.
Nelson was invited to participate in the recent NFL Scouting Combine. He recorded the fastest time in the 40-yard dash. He has to be on some team’s radar.
It is not uncommon for pro day events to include players from multiple schools. While programs like Alabama and Oregon and Ohio State and other power programs from power conferences typically hold their own pro day events, many smaller schools organize additional scouting opportunities for a collective group of players within a short drive’s radius. In addition to the UAB players on hand, players from Samford and Division 2 Miles College took part in the event.
The Big 12 did it earlier today, and now one of the Group of Five leagues has followed suit as well.
As selected by the league’s 13 head coaches, Conferences USA announced on Wednesday its 2014 Players of the Year. The six major awards were spread out among five different schools, with conference champion Marshall the only one to garner more than one.
Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty was named the league’s Most Valuable Player, the sixth time in the last seven years a quarterback has been accorded that honor. Another quarterback, Marshall’s Rakeem Cato, was named as the Offensive Player of the Year for a second season in a row.
Below are the other four honors announced today.
Defensive Player of the Year: Marshall linebacker Neville Hewitt
Special Teams Player of the Year: UAB wide receiver J.J. Nelson
Freshman of the Year: Old Dominion running back Ray Lawry
Newcomer of the Year: Louisiana Tech quarterback Cody Sokol