BIRMINGHAM – J.C. Sivley smiles when discussing his early days as a college tight end. At the time, when UAB opened fall camp last season, it wasn't really a laughing matter.

"The first time I really got in there, I was getting killed," Sivley said. "I didn't know where to put my hands. I was getting run over. They were throwing me, tossing me. Slowly I started learning how to use my hands, how to use my weight, not let them get a hold of me, keep a good base. Really, at the beginning, it was a huge learning curve. Once I started getting it, it became easier."

Look at Sivley now, and you see what looks like a natural tight end. He's 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds. He has the frame for the position and looks comfortable. A year ago, he was a former high school wide receiver at Helena High with one season of tight end experience trying to learn what it's like to be a college tight end.

"Extremely difficult," Sivley said. "Tight end, at the next level, is much more physical. Your hand placement, your steps, hat placement is critical. In high school, everything is not as detailed. You're maybe more athletic than the other guy, so you don't have to work on your technique. Here, everybody is even."

Sivley, who had 46 catches for 792 yards with eight touchdowns in his final season at Helena, spent the year learning from experienced teammates. Terrell McDonald and Bryce Damous combined for 21 catches and three touchdowns while getting the bulk of the playing time. Dallas Payne had three catches for 20 yards. Brody Dalton had four catches for 63 yards.

Sivley played in one game but primarily spent the season on the scout team.

"Last year was a development year for me," Sivley said. "I really am being developed more this year under this new staff, which I appreciate a lot. Coming up last year, I had a big scout team role. I got to learn a lot of the base offense. I was coming from high school, where I played a lot of receiver, not a lot of tight end. Last year, I got to really work on my technique and learn the position. This year, I'm applying it."

UAB head coach Trent Dilfer has seen the growth.

"It was interesting when I got here, those two weeks, and he was mainly working with the scout," Dilfer said of watching practice before the Bahamas Bowl. "I watched both fields, saw his movement qualities, saw his endurance. For a big guy, he's got really good endurance but wasn't sure what type of blocker he'd be. He has the frame for it but had never really been taught. He was a receiver in high school. I've been really pleased with his want-to and willingness as a blocker, and his technique is getting better every day."

Dalton and Maleak Bryant, who didn't have a catch, are the only tight ends from last year's rotation that didn't return. Dalton transferred to Troy and Bryant moved on to Long Island University for his final college season. Sivley fits into an experienced group at a position that will be an integral part of the UAB offense.

"Tight end is a big part of it," said Dilfer. "We like to use everybody. I get asked this question all the time. We like fullbacks too. We like receivers. We like lots of running backs. We like to use everybody. But, yes, we love the traditional tight end, hand in the dirt guy that can be a dominant run blocker as well as a threat in the passing game. That's what we see J.C. growing into."

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