UAB is eager to major in football Team started as a club gains Division I-A status

September 06, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

So what if there's a hyphen in the name? Did you expect any school from Alabama not to take its football seriously?

Alabama-Birmingham plays Maryland tomorrow (7 p.m.) at Byrd Stadium, and the Blazers will come to College Park with little heritage but a grand scheme to build one. UAB began the 1990s with a club team, but it barged its way into major-college football last week by sticking with one of the in-state behemoths it wants to emulate.

Three-quarters into UAB's first game as a member of Division I-A, the Blazers trailed then-No. 16 Auburn, 12-0. They ended up losing 29-0, but it was a satisfying debut for a program that went 5-6 in Division I-AA last year, and was in Division III just three seasons before that.

"If I'm not careful, we'll get happy with moral victories, but we gained some confidence against Auburn," UAB coach Watson Brown said. "We showed we could line up against a good team."

Brown didn't have enough scholarship players to fill a two-deep chart last year, but the Blazers' growth since then typifies the haste in which they want to become a player in major-college football.

"We were half-funded in I-AA last year," Brown said of a level where 63 is the maximum scholarship allotment. "We've recruited one I-A class, but there are 25 new players on scholarship, and it's a great class. I was shocked at our ability to get that many good players.

"We caught everyone else at a good time. Alabama could only offer 12 [scholarships] this year, and we got four or five kids they may have normally gotten. Some of the kids we got are SEC caliber."

The Blazers won't be entering the Southeastern Conference any time soon. It figures that they will eventually build their schedule around Conference USA, one of the many leagues that was brokered this decade by men's basketball.

That's where UAB's greatest athletic accomplishments have come. Athletic director Gene Bartow, the man who replaced John Wooden at UCLA, had UAB within one win of the Final Four in 1982.

In the Northeast, a Massachusetts can play in the Yankee Conference and a Georgetown can play non-scholarship football, but in the South, UAB decided that you're not big-time without big-time football.

Brown, whose brother, Mack, is the coach at North Carolina, has experience being outmanned. In the 1980s, he was the head coach at Cincinnati, Rice and Vanderbilt. He wasn't offended when Sports Illustrated tabbed the Blazers as dead last among the nation's 111 major-college teams.

"There's a big misconception," Brown said. "You put I-A beside your name, you're supposed to be I-A, but you're not."

Thomas to miss second start

Ratcliff Thomas, a three-year starter at linebacker for Maryland, will remain in civilian clothes for the second week as he recuperates from a dislocated shoulder. The Terps plan to have Thomas back for next week's Atlantic Coast Conference opener, at Virginia.

Julian Hambrick, a defensive end whose enrollment was held up by the NCAA Eligibility Clearinghouse, will take two courses at Union County (N.J.) College this fall, and enter Maryland next January.

Next for Terps

Opponent: Alabama-Birmingham

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m.

Record: 0-1

Pub Date: 9/06/96

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