Bill Clark huddles with the victorious Green team during UAB's Green and Gold Game on Oct. 26. The Blazers return to action for real this year after being shuttered in 2015-16. (Photo courtesy UAB Athletics)
Bill Clark huddles with the victorious Green team during UAB's Green and Gold Game on Oct. 26. The Blazers return to action for real this year after being shuttered in 2015-16. (Photo courtesy UAB Athletics)

UAB football springs forward for real

Jordan Howard left UAB when university president Ray Watts shut down the football program on Dec. 2, 2014.

But UAB never left Howard.

On his first day of Chicago Bears rookie minicamp last year, Howard sported UAB shorts and a #FreeUAB bracelet.

"I played every game with the bracelet," he told ESPN's Jeff Dickerson. "I don’t take it off.”

Howard transferred to Indiana for his final season in 2015 and finished second in the Big Ten with 1,213 yards rushing. He went to the Bears in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. And in a triumph for Blazers football, he finished second in the NFL with 1,313 yards rushing. He set the Bears' single-season rookie rushing record and was named the team's MVP.

“I already had a big chip on my shoulder because UAB was my only offer coming out of high school. It just made my chip even bigger," Howard said. "But I definitely wanted to play well for UAB and put on for UAB because their program shut down. They just took it from us like it was nothing."

Turns out it was not nothing. And this season Howard can cheer his former team.

After a two-year hiatus, UAB football formally restarted with spring practice, culminating April 1 with the Spring Game at Legion Field in Birmingham.

“This is our only true dress rehearsal at Legion Field before we play Alabama A&M so we are going to treat this as close to a real game as possible,” UAB head coach Bill Clark said. “This spring is so important to our team’s preparation for the 2017 season and this game is going to provide the staff with valuable insight as to who will show up when the bright lights are on.”

The Blazers kick off their 12-game schedule Sept. 2 against Alabama A&M. They play six teams that were bowl eligible last year, including Florida and Conference USA rivals Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Southern Miss and UTSA.

But Clark and the Blazers are not starting exactly from scratch. He received a five-year contract extension in 2015 and has spent the past two years recruiting, promoting and coaching. Outside linebacker Shaq Jones, cornerback Darius Williams and offensive lineman Chris Schleuger are among UAB's returning players.

Spring does bring a new feeling this year.

"Because it’s real now," Clark said. "We can put ourselves in the same context as every other football-playing school in the country.”

Now Howard can change his bracelet to #GoUAB.

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