In some ways, it was far from business as usual for the UAB football team on Tuesday morning.
Several players, including running backs DeWayne McBride and Jermaine Brown Jr., missed the practice because they had final exams. Others had to hustle after practice to get to their final exams. At one point, during a drill, there weren't enough offensive linemen to fill out all five spots, so offensive line coach Cameron Blankenship and strength and conditioning assistant Matt McCants, both former standout offensive linemen at UAB, lined up next to each other on the right side. Early in the practice, there were just a pair of tight ends going through the drills.
But the Blazers were on the football field, and after an emotional week, just being back on the field was a victory.
"It's been very refreshing," said UAB interim head coach Bryant Vincent, whose team began bowl practice on Monday. "With all the changes and the situation we're in, it's good just to get out here and practice. To get out here with these 21 seniors and these coaches, they've got a lot of uncertainty going around, and it's not easy. It's about these players, this football team and preparing for this bowl game."
UAB concludes the 2022 season a week from Friday against Miami of Ohio in the Bahamas Bowl. For new head coach Trent Dilfer, it's been a hectic time, filled with building for the future. He's hiring a coaching staff, recruiting players and selling his program on national radio shows.
For Vincent, the current staff and players, the focus is a bit more singular.
"I think, for a while, we were just concerned about what's going to happen, what the future looks like," said quarterback Dylan Hopkins. "I think now that we know everything, it's just still UAB football. Nothing changes. We're just getting prepared for the game. We're all excited to be back out here and finally move around after that week break."
Vincent said he moved the practices to the morning so his team can get prepared for the 11:30 a.m. ET kickoff in the Bahamas. The change is why players have missed some practice time the past two days to take scheduled exams, but Vincent said it hasn't been a major hindrance to the preparation.
It took two wins in the final three games, including the Blazers' lone road win this season, to get UAB into the postseason. Vincent said this team "is deserving" to end in a bowl game.
"I told them the last several weeks, you're going to look back, and you're going to remember how you finish," Vincent said. "It's a big deal to go to a bowl game. It's a big deal. This is something that we're accustomed to. We'd been to one bowl game in the history of UAB before . Now it's continuous and something we expect. To be able to continue that streak is a big deal. This will be a moment we'll have a lot of pride in and have a lot of memories that they'll be able to take with them and never be taken away."
It's fitting that the Blazers end this season in the Bahamas. In 2017, at the conclusion of the first year of the return to football, UAB played in the Bahamas Bowl. This year's trip brings the program full circle as they head into the next chapter. A win over Miami of Ohio would give UAB its 50th win since the football was kicked off in the 2017 season opener against Alabama A&M at Legion Field.
"To start it back in '17 and start in the Bahamas Bowl, really the second bowl ever [in program history], then, to be able to finish this era of UAB football in the Bahamas Bowl is very fitting," Vincent said. "You're looking at the greatest era in UAB football, if you're just looking at wins and losses and championships and bowl wins."
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