Picking a signature UAB moment for DeWayne McBride, Jr. is not a simple task, partly because there’s that feeling that the signature moment is still out there. Or, perhaps, because signature moments come with different definitions.

Is it the moment when he burst on the scene in 2020 by spinning away from a Western Kentucky defender on 3rd-and-inches and racing for a 71-yard touchdown on his ninth college football carry? Is it the school-record 75-yard burst later that season at Louisiana Tech? Is it any number of tackle-breaking, defender-dragging runs he had in 2021? Or is it during the Independence Bowl when he showed vision, speed and a devastating stiff arm on his way to a 64-yard touchdown run?

It could be a combination of all of the above. Or it could be the fact that he often makes the extraordinary look ordinary.

“He does it so [regularly], I’m just used to it by now,” said UAB running back Lee Witherspoon. “I’m like, ‘That’s just Debo.’”’

The roster tells us that McBride is a 5-foot-11, 215-pound junior running back from Starke, Florida. That just scratches the surface. Dig deeper and you find a NFL prospect running back who has endured and prospered through good times on the football field and some not-so-good away from football.

“Growing up, my people didn’t have a lot,” said McBride, who, like his father and grandfather before him, has long gone by the nickname ‘Debo’.

At times, he lived with his grandmother. Other times, he lived with a cousin or one of his sisters. He attended three different high schools. His father, McBride said, fathered “about 20” children and his mother has six children, DeWayne and his five sisters. His mother worked in construction, McBride said, leaving the house at 4 a.m. on a daily basis.

He used his father as a football model but also learned from him off the field. “Like I told you my dad had all them kids,” McBride said. “He used to tell us stories all the time how he had all these offers. I just wanted to be different. He had kids in high school. I don’t have kids. I’m the first to make it out. I just wanted to be different than him in that way. He played running back. I used to rock 32 because he had that number and I wanted to represent him.”

Many of his football skills were taught to him at a young age by his father. They are lessons that aren’t hard to spot today.

“I don’t want no man tackling me,” McBride said. “Every time I get it, I’m trying to get a touchdown. My dad always told me to not let one man tackle you.”

McBride said he saw many friends choose the wrong path. He used football to keep him heading the right way. He played as a freshman at Bradford High in Starke. His brother, Dejon McBride, is now a 6' 2", 330-pound defensive tackle with nine reported scholarship offers by 247 Sports, at Bradford High.

DeWayne played as a sophomore and junior at Fleming Island before transferring to Vanguard High in Ocala. His uncle, DeWhitt Betterson, a former star running back at Troy and member of the Trojans’ Athletic Hall of Fame, was part of the staff at Vanguard. Betterson’s son is now a Troy running back.

He had 20 reported scholarship offers, according to 247 Sports. Football was his vehicle to take a huge step forward.

“Growing up, that’s really all we had,” McBride said. “I was alright in school. I knew I could get the work done. I wasn’t the smartest but I just knew that without my grades I didn’t have football.”

Vincent, Richard Owens, the Blazers former offensive line coach, and running back coach Hindley Brigham did the bulk of the recruiting work on McBride.

“I think the biggest thing is we stayed consistent,” Vincent said. “We got him up here on a visit and showed him everything that we told him throughout the recruiting process. (We showed him) that he had an opportunity to be the next Spencer Brown, that we were a running football team and that he could be the next guy. He could come in, get his feet wet as a true freshman and then be that next guy. He saw the vision, he embraced the vision and he accepted the challenge.”

Early in the summer of 2020, McBride showed up on campus to report. He knew some of his teammates but the reality of being away from family hit hard.

“I ain’t going to lie, when my family dropped me off, you know how you get a chill, I felt that chill,” McBride said. “But I knew what I was here for. I had to man up and do what I had to do. I knew I had to get to work.”

McBride didn’t take long to start turning heads. He stood out in fall camp and it became evident early that he would have a spot in the rotation behind Spencer Brown. The offense still revolved around the relentless Brown but McBride represented the future.

“I knew, almost immediately, that he was going to be a very good running back,” Brigham said. “It wasn’t until probably  2-3 games into the fall season did I realize he was going to be an elite running back. Debo was better than Spencer by the end of his freshman year.”

McBride’s first carries came at South Alabama and he flashed his potential. McBride had six carries for 64 yards in that game and scored the game’s final points on a 6-yard run. He had two carries for 31 yards, including a 28-yard burst in the next game against UTSA before securing his spot in the rotation for good with the big run against Western Kentucky.

Overall, he had 439 yards on 47 carries, an average of 9.3 yards per carry, with four touchdowns in six games. His yards per carry would have been second best nationally in FBS but he didn’t have enough carries to qualify to be included in the stats. Ten carries per game is required to be included in the stats for this category. The national leader, Arizona State’s Rachaad White, averaged 10 yards per carry on 42 carries but the Sun Devils played just four games that season.

McBride moved on to become the man who followed the man. Brown left campus as the UAB career rushing leader with 4,011 rushing yards and he took home a pair of Conference USA championship rings.

Despite heavy preseason hype, McBride eased into being the top runner. He lost two fumbles in the season-opening win over Jacksonville State and only had two 100-yard rushing games in the first eight games. In that eighth game, the loss to Rice, he had 98 yards on eight carries before suffering a bad ankle sprain. The Blazers had a bye the following week and he was held out of practice. He didn’t return until the following Thursday. Two days later, he missed the entire first quarter and got his first carry with just over 12 minutes left in the second quarter and the Blazers trailing, 21-7. His next carry resulted in a 20-yard touchdown. By the time expired, he had 210 yards on 14 carries with four touchdowns in a 52-38 win.

“That was the week that the light went on,” Brigham said. “It flickered against Southern Miss and it was flickering pretty strong against Rice but it was on against La Tech. For the rest of the season, honestly, Debo went out there with the attitude and the mindset that there was nothing they could do to stop him. It turned out to be true.”

He had 108 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns at Marshall.  He had 144 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown at UTSA and 99 yards on just seven carries against UTEP. He left that UTEP game with an ankle injury after being dragged down short of the goal line on a 67-yard run. In the BYU win, he had 183 yards on a career-high 28 carries with a touchdown.

In the transfer portal world, other teams surely noticed. Some of them reached out. He wasn’t interested.

“There were a couple but I’m a UAB Blazer,” McBride said. “I knew that’s how life is right now. I see how everything is going. But I feel like it’s a distraction to me. I’m locked in.”

Bruce Feldman of The Athletic listed McBride among the top 100 of his annual list of physical freaks in college football. Feldman said in his story on the list that is put together to spotlight athletes with “unique physical abilities.” Feldman cites McBride’s weight room numbers – 345 pounds on the clean lift and 385 pounds on bench press – and a 40-yard dash time of 4.5.

“For a guy like DeWayne McBride, there’s not enough weight we can put on the bar,” said Lyle Henley, UAB’s Director of Athletic Performance for Football. “We start looking at different measured metrics like power output, speed, repeatability and those things like that. You see how his game has moved forward. He’s a guy who went from 225 pounds to 215 pounds. He’s more elusive and (improved) change of direction.”

McBride’s goals are a combination of lofty and practical this season – 2,000 yards rushing, 15 to 20 touchdowns, the UAB quarterback taking no hits and his receiving skills improving. Do that and he moves to the doorstep of becoming UAB’s all-time leading rusher. Give him two more seasons and he smashes that record. Either way, he’s off to chase an NFL career after he finishes in Birmingham.

“I just feel like I got to put my head down and keep working,” McBride said. “I know all the attention is there, but there is still work to be done. Nothing’s ever been given to me. I still got to get better every day. Around here, they say, Win the Day. I attack the day every day.”

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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