BIRMINGHAM — It all started with a stopwatch or, in this case, a pair of stopwatches.
Bryant Vincent and the former UAB coaching staff liked what they saw from Taven Curry from the outset. They knew he could be very good. They knew he had the ability to be physical. They loved what they saw on tape during his time at Robertsdale High.
But they weren't sure how fast he was, and that's where the stopwatches came in. They had him run a 40-yard dash after his arrival.
"The thing that got me was he showed up and was 6-feet-1 and 192 pounds, and he ran two straight 4.5 40s," said UAB running back Hindley Brigham. "We had two clocks, both of them said 4.50. We had him run it again. It was so odd because rarely with a hand time do they match up. The second time, both of us had a 4.50, so it's legitimate speed. Somebody who has the potential to be 215-220 pounds and also very fast, that was the first thing I saw."
Truth is, long before the stopwatches came out, the UAB coaching staff suspected they had a steal when they signed Curry. He was a one-time South Alabama commitment whose only other offers came from Middle Tennessee and Mercer. This despite rushing for more than 1,000 yards in each of his last two seasons while playing for a team that won just seven games in those two seasons.
Brigham said he quickly noticed something else rather quickly.
"The humility," Brigham said. "He asked good questions, he was curious about the right things. I think Taven really wants to be great and I think he wants to be great for the right reasons. Once we got to know him, those are things we are looking for, things we seek out in UAB football players."
Curry didn't show up at UAB with lofty expectations for his first college season. It wasn't hard to notice that the Blazers' backfield featured one of the best backs in the country and another that wasn't far behind. He decided early on that he would soak in everything he could from watching and working with DeWayne McBride and Jermaine "Skull" Brown.
"First of all, I learned how to practice from Skull," said Curry, now listed at 205 pounds. "In high school, I was just cruising through practice, ready for practice to be over. Seeing how Skull practiced and seeing how it relates to the game, I realized practice is a big deal. And, with (McBride) running behind my pads and stuff like that, just really like learning new stuff about the game."
Brigham said that, with the football in his hands, Curry was ready to play as a true freshman. But there's so much more needed to play running back in college. Brigham said one of the biggest steps that Curry has taken is in pass protection.
"This spring, he has showed us that he will go, meet a linebacker at the line of scrimmage and stone him," Brigham said. "That is not something that he was able to do last fall. (It's a) willingness to be physical and willingness to be violent in the situations that require violence as a football player."
In the old offense, the running backs were rarely used to catch the football. Their touches came in the running game. This year, the running backs will be a big part of the passing game. Curry, who had seven catches in the UAB Spring Game, fits nicely into that role.
"Taven, after Skull, is the guy I find to be the most reliable in all phases of the offense," Brigham said. "In terms of knowing what to do, aligning to execute, being able to do it fast, being able to execute as a runner, pass protector, receiver. He's really a complete running back. He's not a finished product, but he's one of those guys that is capable of doing everything that a running back is asked to do in the modern game."
He also does it in his own style.
"Everything is effortless," Brigham said. "I think that's one thing about him. It's not that he's taking it easy, not that he's coasting or lack of effort. He's a natural smooth athlete and runner. Sometimes, it's like, is he really going full speed? I think this spring he's shown there's a different level of acceleration and burst that you see with him. I'm excited about Taven."
The hard part for Brigham and the offensive staff is finding time for everyone in a running back room filled with talent. Brown is the unquestioned leader, but it's been evident this spring that Curry, Lee Beebe, Demetrius Battle, and Lee Witherspoon also need to have a shot. And the room gets even more crowded this summer when junior college transfer Isaiah Jacobs arrives at UAB.
Brigham compares it to the 2020 Conference USA championship game win at Marshall when Spencer Brown, McBride, Jermaine Brown, Lucious Stanley and Larry Wooden all carried the football.
"I think we're going to be beyond that this year. I got to get six, if not seven," Brigham said.
Curry said the competition had pushed him through the spring and will continue in the summer.
"Whenever your name is called, if you get one rep, just make that the best rep you can," Curry said. "If you're getting two reps, three reps, every opportunity you get, just get the most out of it and work hard. It's going to pay off if you really want it that bad. Just give it your best and take care of every opportunity that you get."
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819News.com.
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