Kyle Harrell is content with his role on the UAB football team.
It seems like such a simple sentence, at least until you consider his complex journey through college football.
The Calera High graduate spent a year at the U.S. Military Academy Prep before returning home to walk on at UAB. He’s been a running back. He had a pair of stints at safety and is in his third season at jack linebacker. His seasons at safety were sandwiched around his first season at jack linebacker. He was one of the best on the team – and still is - at covering kicks.
All the while, he fought this gnawing feeling.
“It’s crazy, as I’ve gone through the years here, I’ve always looked back and had regrets,” Harrell said. “This is probably the first year that I’ve looked back and really believe that things went the way they went for a reason. I really feel I wouldn’t be who I was and how I am today, if everything didn’t happen the way it did, whether it was injuries or moving positions.”
Harrell has long been a contributor to UAB’s success. A year ago, he began inching past simply being a contributor. He had 25 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He earned honorable mention on the All-Conference USA team voted on by the conference coaches.
That wasn’t enough, not when, for the first time, he looked ahead and saw no more tomorrow as a UAB football player. He is one of three current players on UAB’s roster, joining safeties Will Boler and Grayson Cash, who were around for the return of UAB football in 2017. There was always another year. Not anymore. Saturday’s visit to Liberty puts him one week closer to moving on.
“I’ve grown into a man here and seen so many great players come in and out,” the 24-year-old Harrell said. “It’s surreal for me, I’ve really found myself as a player, which I spent a lot of time here trying to do. I consider myself a tweener, a lot of my coaches would, too. They’ve had trouble finding a spot for me. Now, I’ve found my niche. I’m just trying to develop it as best I can and have a big year here.”
Sitting back wouldn’t make that happen. He went to work on improving his frame. The 6-foot-1 Harrell weighed around 180 pounds when he first came to UAB and peaked at 210 pounds a year ago.
“I had to completely change my lifestyle,” said Harrell, who has completed his degree in general studies with a business management minor. “I had to get up early and realize if I’m not eating two breakfasts before 11 or 12 o’clock, then I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do. If I’m not eating twice before I go to bed, I’m going to lose my (gains). I just really had to change my lifestyle, to where I could be consistent, every day, in my eating habits, staying hydrated and taking supplements. All to keep my weight.”
This wasn’t a matter of picking the nearest fast food, however. Weight gain was his goal. Bad weight gain was not an option.
“That’s why I said I had to change my lifestyle,” Harrell said. “You have to allocate time for cooking. You can’t just, any time you are hungry, eat fast food. I had to maximize my time. At the end of the day, cooking is cheaper but it's a lot more time-consuming than going to get food. I really had to change my schedule up and just prioritize my time the best I could. I knew (cooking) was the best way to gain good weight.”
Harrell enters this season at 225 pounds. He’s stronger than ever and kept his speed. The extra size and strength opens up his options and turned him into an edge defender who can do more than one thing.
“I spent the first couple of years, at Jack, being that third down guy they just kind of threw in there,” said Harrell, who forced a fumble on his first sack of the season against Alabama A&M. “Being a guy who is a speed guy but also a power guy keeps the tackles on their toes. Being out there at 205, the tackles knew what I was going to do every time. It was kind of tough to really mix it up. Now, I can mix it up, I got the power, I got the speed. It makes it easier for me to really be productive in my role in any situation they put me in.”
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