Lee Witherspoon made an impact at running back during UAB’s first full-scale scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday.
He was hardly the lone running back finding room to run during the scrimmage. The Blazers put their running back depth on display on Saturday with DeWayne McBride and Jermaine Brown told to take the day off.
Considering the journey back from a significant injury, though, and perhaps Witherspoon’s performance in the scrimmage, as well as camp in general, might be the most eye-opening. Witherspoon’s first fall camp ended in the final scrimmage when he broke his leg. This fall camp offers the 5-foot-11, 205-pound running back an opportunity to show that he can contribute.
“I think Lee’s confidence rose daily,” UAB football interim head coach Bryant Vincent. “He’s growing each day, he’s getting more comfortable in what he’s doing, and he’s starting to play with an attitude. As your confidence grows, then you start to relax, and you become a better player.”
Witherspoon had a record-setting senior season at North Jackson High in Northeast Alabama. His numbers were mind-boggling: 2,846 rushing yards with a 19.2 yards per carry average, 53 rushing touchdowns, 59 overall touchdowns and a punt return average of 35.6 yards on 10 returns.
All of this happened in his first year playing running back.
Witherspoon was born and raised in Birmingham. He attended high school at Parker, where he started as cornerback. He moved to Stevenson to live with his dad during the second semester of his junior year.
“It was kind of like a culture shock,” Witherspoon said. “I’m born and raised in the city and moving out there with my dad in the country, it was different.”
Once at North Jackson, he was moved to running back. Witherspoon shrugged at the move and set out “to do my best.”
His best led the Chiefs to 11 consecutive wins before falling in the Class 4A second round. The Chiefs outscored their first 11 opponents, 664-101, never scoring less than 41 points in that stretch. However, the season ended with a 33-13 loss to Hokes Bluff.
“To be honest, I can’t even describe how fun it was,” Witherspoon said.
He said he still can’t grasp how incredible his final numbers were.
“It still doesn’t shock me. It hasn’t hit me yet,” said Witherspoon, who was the state Class 4A runner-up in the 100-meter dash as a junior. “My dad said it will hit me when I’m looking back at it when I’m about 30. I was just out there having fun, just out there playing football.”
His two seasons at Mississippi State were far less spectacular. He played in 22 games with 28 carries for 136 yards, 12 receptions for 68 yards and scored his lone touchdown against Southern Miss in 2019. He said he decided to leave Starkville because the offense was tailored to throw the ball more than run it.
He had several schools pursuing him after deciding to leave, but the recruitment didn’t last long.
“I talked to Coach Vincent, and he was really [passionate] about his players,” said Witherspoon of Vincent, who was then the offensive coordinator under Bill Clark. “I wanted to play under him. I told my mom that I already know what school I’m going to. I’m coming back home and going to UAB. I shut it down real quick.”
Unfortunately, his first season got shut down quickly with the injury. He worked his way back and is in the mix for some carries despite playing a position jam-packed with talent and experience. Running back coach Hindley Brigham has developed the position into one of the deepest on the team.
Witherspoon, who appears to be behind McBride, Brown and A.J. Gates at this point, doesn’t mind being in a crowded backfield.
“Playing football is always a team sport,” Witherspoon said. “When you know you got everybody in that room that can run like that, it will push you harder.”
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