BIRMINGHAM — Zaire Flournoy's biggest steps he's taken since joining the UAB football program were replaced by his biggest setback.

We'll start with the steps forward. During the recently concluded spring practice, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound redshirt junior played his best football since arriving at UAB. He quickly worked his way onto the first team at right guard and showed no signs of letting that spot go. UAB head coach Trent Dilfer said Flournoy was on his way to becoming perhaps the team's top offensive lineman this spring.

The setback?

That came just days before the team's first scrimmage of spring practice. During a non-contact technique drill, Flournoy took a step, and his spring changed in a flash. He ruptured that Achilles tendon on his right foot.

"It was basically a freak accident," Flournoy said. "I couldn't feel it. My adrenaline was pumping so much, I couldn't feel anything. But, I knew something was wrong. I was just mad. I wanted it so bad and I knew something was wrong."

Others who were nearby said they could hear the loud pop that generally comes with that injury. The diagnosis came quickly, and surgery followed soon afterward. Not only did his strong spring practice end, but Flournoy said the recovery time is thought to be 9-12 months.  

"The first day was really tough, I couldn't understand why," Flournoy said.

That's a legit question to ask, especially considering where he'd been and where he was headed on the football field. He redshirted in 2020, played in one game in 2021 and was on special teams for almost all of his time in 12 appearances last season. That role changed considerably this spring.

"I feel like I came in with a really good mindset," Flournoy said. "I wanted this for so long and I never really got a shot to really get put in that fire. Now that I had a chance, I just wanted to take advantage and give everything my all. I love this game. When I got out there, I just gave it my best every snap. They were going to get the best out of me. That's the mentality I came with every day."

However, this isn't a story about what might have been. For Flournoy, this is a story about what will be. He allowed himself the one day to ask why and moved forward quickly.

"I talked to a lot of people, and stuff like this happens," Flournoy said. "It's like what do I do now? I can't just sit there and do nothing. I'm one of those people, if football doesn't work out, I got to have a backbone. School is free for me, so I'm trying to take advantage of it. During this time, these 9-12 months, I can do a lot. I can overload on classes. I can get my GPA higher. I can do a lot of stuff that will help me at the end of the road. I'm trying to take advantage of everything. I will work more community hours and just do a lot of stuff that when I was active, I wasn't doing as much. Take advantage of the time that I have now."

Flournoy is a kinesiology major. In fact, his major is why he chose to come to UAB. He wants to be an occupational therapist. He can learn from being on the other side.

"A lot of stuff I'll be doing now plays a big part in what I want to do," Flournoy said. "That's another blessing that I get to see what really happens in this field and what really goes into it."

Flournoy estimates he's already capable of putting 25% to 50% of his weight on his injured foot. He's ready to jump into his rehab with UAB head athletic trainer Dan Springer and the training staff, but also wants to play a role with this season's team.

"It's very important, actually," Flournoy said. "I won't be able to help on the field. But, if you need help watching film, if you need anybody to critique, I'm still here. Don't count me out. I'm still with y'all boys. This is what I love to do, so don't feel like if I don't show up as much as I used to, I'm still around."

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