By Steve Irvine
UAB head coach Bill Clark recently passed senior running back D.J. Vinson on the way to the Blazers' football practice field. Vinson's water bottle was tucked "high and tight" in one of his arms. Clark couldn't help but feel a twinge of pride.
"I said `You're thinking about ball security at all times aren't you?' Clark said. "And he said `Yes sir, I am.'"
Vinson is covering every angle as he enters his fifth and final season of college football. He's working on techniques on and off the field and working hard while on the field. He's studying his role and turning heads on the practice field.
"D.J. sees it, smells it, he's hungry," said senior quarterback Myles McKee. "The urgency has been an all-time high for him."
Vinson has faced more than his share of adversity during his time at UAB. The Birmingham native, who played at Clay-Chalkville High, has fit just one season of action into his four years on campus. He made a favorable early impression as a true freshman in 2010 but missed the season because of a knee injury suffered during fall camp. He played in all 12 games the following season, catching 11 passes for 97 yards with two touchdowns, but the 2012 season ended in fall camp when he fractured his ankle and broke his leg in a scrimmage. Last season, his season was derailed before it started because of academic issues.
He spent last season working with the UAB scout team to get his teammates ready for games. Saturdays, he said, often brought him to tears as he stood on the sideline watching his teammates play. Giving up against all the adversity certainly would have been understandable. But Vinson kept moving forward.
"Through all the injuries and academic problems, I felt like it might be the end," Vinson said. "But I just kept praying and I got positive people on my side - teammates, coaches and family - who just kept pulling for me and kept praying for me. I just got in a mindset of `I've been doing this since I was 7 years old so I'm not going to quit pushing.'"
"I learned that I'm a fighter," Vinson said. "Going through the injuries, you can easily give up. I put in four years, this is my fifth year, so I didn't just want to give up. Those are a thousand something days right there. I didn't want to give those days up. I wanted to keep fighting because I know my teammates were counting on me. They didn't give up on me so why should I give up on myself?"
He not only came back for his final season but he returned to the spot he excelled in as a high school senior after lining up at receiver when he was on the field during his first four years at UAB. Clark and his staff moved Vinson to help add depth behind starter Jordan Howard but also because that was where they felt he fit best with his versatility.
"He's an explosive change," Clark said. "We've got good ones in Howard and (Ja'Won Arrington), but he's a guy you can split out (or) you can have in the backfield. A couple times the other night, it was 3rd-and-short and he gets the first. It's important to him. You're going to see good things out of him this year."
Most importantly, Vinson is on track to finish his degree in Communication Management at the end of the fall semester. He will be the first male in his family to earn a college degree.
"I take a lot of pride in that," Vinson said.
For now, though, his focus is on getting ready to play in the Aug. 30 opener against Troy at Legion Field. He's approaching the opener with a different perspective than his earlier years at UAB.
"You take it for granted," Vinson said. "You don't know how it means until you get it taken from you. I only have one more year, as of now, so I might not get tomorrow. I take it like this is my last day so I'll give it all I got."