BIRMINGHAM – J’Mar Smith, who is in his second season as a quarterback with the Birmingham Stallions, is a Louisiana Tech guy through and through. With a smile and a quick answer, though, he doesn’t mind throwing to former UAB receivers Austin Watkins, Jr. and Myron Mitchell, who are college rivals.

“They’re going to get the ball, trust me,” Smith said. “I love strong hands, man. If you show me you can catch the ball, you’re going to get the ball, I promise you that.”

It didn’t take Smith long to see that Watkins and Mitchell are good options for the Stallion quarterbacks.

“UAB should have gave them the ball a little bit more, I will say that,” Smith said. “They have great hands, they run routes really great. I could write a book about those two and I’ve only know them for a couple of weeks. They have great hands, I will continue to say that. They make our jobs easier, so we’re going to continue to get them the ball.”

Watkins played at UAB from 2018-2020 and Mitchell was with the Blazers in 2019 and 2020. Watkins had 98 catches for 1,642 yards with nine touchdowns in 25 college games. His best season came in 2019 when he had 57 catches for 1,092 yards with six touchdowns. Mitchell had 63 catches for 990 yards with touchdowns.

Myronmitch2 Alabama News
Jasper native Myron Mitchell returns to Birmingham to play for the Stallions. (Photo by UAB Athletics)

Both were perched on the doorstep of making an active NFL roster since leaving Birmingham.

Mitchell spent the 2021 season with the Minnesota Vikings. He was on the practice squad for each week of the regular season and was activated for a Monday night game against the Chicago Bears.

“I was anxious, but nervous as well,” Mitchell said. “I actually played on a snap, so it felt good. My family was there. It was just a great experience.”

Injuries played a role in each of Watkins’ two seasons chasing a NFL job. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco 49ers and pushed toward making the roster but broke his foot late in training camp. Last season, hamstring problems kept him from having a full opportunity to challenge for a job with the Tampa Bay Bucs.  

“It’s really frustrating when you know you can do more,” Watkins said. “You know you’re supposed to be playing and you break your foot. And then you go to Tampa and have hamstring problems. I keep have hiccups and hiccups. Now, it’s time for smooth sailing.”

Both sailed into the USFL with the Stallions. Watkins said he jumped at the chance, partly because it gave the Fort Myers, Florida native an opportunity to return to Birmingham.

“It just feels good to be home and be closer to (former UAB head coach Bill Clark) and get to see him now and then,” Watkins said. “I saw Coach Clark (earlier this week). He came to see me and Myron a few times. Dealing with injuries and getting back to it. I thank the Birmingham Stallions for giving me the opportunity. I’m trying to make the best out of it.”

Mitchell was originally slated to play for the Michigan Panthers in the USFL. He received a call from Birmingham Stallions general manager Zach Potter informing him he had been traded to the Stallions.

“I was really banking on that, hoping I would get back to Birmingham,” Mitchell said. “That’s a blessing to be back home, being able to go back to UAB to see old friends and teammates.”

Obviously, the long-term goal is to get back to the NFL, but they are focused now on performing well for the Stallions.

“Mitch and Austin have really done a great job,” said Stallions head coach Skip Holtz. “They’ve got an awful lot of talent. I’ve really been impressed, working with them on a day-to-day basis, how well they’ve picked it all up, their speed and their playmaking ability. They’ve really made an impact. I’m just looking forward to making sure they both progress and grow in this system.”

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