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UAB players who transferred after program shut down have ex-teammates with them at new schools

02/14/2015 02:40 EST | Updated 04/16/2015 05:59 EDT
The scenery will change, but some UAB football players forced to look for new schools after their program was shuttered in December will remain teammates next season.

While opponents of UAB President Ray Watts' move have been voicing their objections to University of Alabama system trustees, players had to weigh the option of staying at the school on scholarship or transferring without having to sit out the 2015 season.

"It was kind of like a death in the family," former UAB guard Cameron Blankenship said. "For the first couple of days, there's disbelief and you're mourning. After that, we kind of had to move along and try to find somewhere else to go."

More than 40 players have done just that and landed elsewhere, and dozens have found familiar faces at their new campuses.

Blankenship is one of seven former players to transfer to South Alabama. The list includes Cody Clements, UAB's starting quarterback in 2014. Offensive co-ordinator Bryant Vincent and tight ends coach Richard Owens took over the same positions at South Alabama.

"It's a huge help just having those familiar faces next to you," Clements said. "When you're in a new surrounding and new environment and there are so many different things around you that you're not familiar with, to have someone to lean on and kind of help you get through it is definitely helpful."

Georgia State has six players from UAB. Buffalo, Indiana, Western Kentucky and Football Championship Subdivision programs Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Chattanooga also added multiple UAB players.

"There's always safety in numbers, right?" Georgia State coach Trent Miles said. "You always feel comfortable when you go someplace, and there are familiar people. ... They've kind of blended right in. Every time I look around, all the UAB guys are hanging out with guys who've already been here. They've mixed in with kind of the general population of our team and have gotten along great."

UAB ended its program just as it was finishing a breakthrough season. The Blazers went 6-6 last fall after nine straight losing seasons. The move has drawn criticism on campus. Since the decision, Watts has received no-confidence votes from faculty groups and student government leaders.

The day the school announced football was closing, Blazers coach Bill Clark said he got calls from coaches ready to pursue his players.

"There were just a few guys (who did that)," Clark said. "It wasn't real smart. I understand recruiting and have been doing it for a while, but that wasn't a good move."

In the ensuing days, numerous coaches arrived on UAB's campus. Wide receiver Nyiakki Height, who transferred to Georgia State, said it was like being a high school recruit again.

"It was a frenzy after that happened," Clements said. "You have coaches all over the place kind of like roaches trying to pick up the pieces and get some guys to help their programs."

Some players moved up to Power 5 schools. Running back Jordan Howard headed to Indiana after rushing for 1,587 yards this past season. Linebacker Jake Ganus, who led UAB in tackles, is now at Georgia. Offensive tackle Victor Salako ended up at Oklahoma State.

Others had a tougher time finding new schools. Clark even staged the equivalent of a tryout camp, allowing his players to work out in front of coaches from various schools. That proved particularly beneficial for those who hadn't played much.

"We just wanted to do what was best for the kids," Clark said. "We tried to put our feelings out of it and say, 'Look, we've got to get these guys taken care of. They're our family and our responsibility.' "

Clark also had to ponder his next move. He does not plan to coach in 2015 but intends to return eventually. Clark saw his former players last weekend at a team banquet and realized how much he'd miss them.

"It was hard to see those guys," Clark said. "We felt we had so much potential for next year. It was hard. But at the same time, I'm going to look forward to watching our guys perform. That's what I'm going to be doing. I'm going to be out watching, studying and learning and trying to make myself a better coach."

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