Aug. 25, 2008
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- With its season opener now five days away, the UAB football program held its first media luncheon of the 2008 season Monday. Second-year head coach Neil Callaway and several players were on hand to discuss the kickoff to the 2008 season.
The Blazers will host Conference USA foe Tulsa at 3 p.m. CT Saturday at Legion Field. The contest marks the first time since 2004 that UAB has opened at home and the first time in history the Blazers have opened against a C-USA opponent.
"We are getting ready to go into our second season here at UAB," Callaway said. "I think it is a great opportunity for us. We have a tremendous challenge opening up with Tulsa. Everyone knows about the success they have had the last three years and the progress they have made with their program.
"It's a conference game, and I don't like to open up with a tough conference game like that. But at the same time, I'm glad we get to open up at home."
Saturday's meeting will be just the second all-time between UAB and Tulsa. The two teams met last season for the first time with UAB playing the eventual West Division champion close in a 38-30 loss on the road.
Tulsa is one of eight 2008 UAB opponents that played in a bowl game last season, having defeated Bowling Green in the GMAC Bowl. The Golden Hurricane was recently tabbed to win the division again in the league's preseason coaches poll.
On the offensive side of the ball, UAB returns seven starters, including quarterback Joe Webb. After splitting time in 2007 between quarterback and wide receiver, Webb takes over as the Blazers' full-time signal caller this season. Defensively, the Blazers are led by two preseason All-C-USA selections in safety Will Dunbar and linebacker Joe Henderson.
"I'm excited about our football team," Callaway said. "I'm excited about watching them play. We have had a good camp; it's been a hard camp. The first 15 practices were about as good as you could get. We are going to be a much improved football team."
"Tulsa is one of the class programs of our league. The last three seasons they have been winning and winning pretty good. When you first start talking about Tulsa, you talk about them offensively. Their skill people are as good as anyone in our league and probably the country. If you take their core receivers and running back, they could play for anyone in the country. I think they do an outstanding job. Everyone knows last year they had the outstanding quarterback. They'll have a new quarterback this year. In my understanding there will be two of them. I expect them to be a very productive offense.
"Defensively, they have lost quite a few people at the linebacker spot and a couple of guys up front. They are probably in somewhat of a rebuilding stage. But coach Graham has done a good job coaching defense wherever he has been. I'm sure they'll be a good defensive football team."
"I think offensively we will be a team that ought to be pretty productive. We have got some good skill people. We will have seven or eight receivers we will feel comfortable playing with. When we start Saturday, it will be Frantrell Forrest, Mario Wright and Mike Jones. At running back we are still a work in progress. Jim Mitchell will be one. Aaron Johns will be two. Rashaud Slaughter and Justin Brooks will be co-number threes. We have guys that are a lot alike. How that plays out through the year, we will have to wait and see. We are excited about Joe Webb and what he brings to our team. He's a perfect example of a college student and college quarterback. Up front we will be a lot better. Even though we don't have any seniors, most all of them have played.
"Defensively, I'm still concerned about our front seven. I do think we are better, but we have some issues we need to get ironed out. Our secondary I feel good about. We are looking forward to getting started.
"Our kicking game will be sound. Swayze Waters has tremendous potential after doing a lot of great things last year. He just needs to keep doing them this year."
On why UAB will be better this year
"We will be more experienced. We have all been together for a year now. They have been in our system for a year. We aren't playing with as many freshmen this year, and we have more depth. There's depth at every spot."
On starting Jim Mitchell at running back
"He's a guy that has not missed anything. He's very dependable. He doesn't do anything great but does everything pretty good and doesn't make mistakes. Aaron Johns, in my opinion, is the best one with the ball in his hands, but he's still learning some things in protection. "
On opening with Tulsa
"The only two advantages of playing Tulsa right out of the gate are, number one, they are at home for us. It's a big thing for UAB. Number two, the extra time we get to spend in camp is good. They are kind of a non-traditional offensive football team that does things a little different. Hopefully that will help us defensively."
Quarterback Joe Webb
On the first home game
"This is a great chance for us to improve and show everyone that we have become a better football team. Last year we were very young, and this year we have had a lot of people step up."
On becoming a leader on the team
"I came in my freshman year behind Darrell Hackney, and I had to wait for my moment to take this team and lead this team to victory. Now is the time to take this program to new heights."
On preparing for the quarterback position
"I have been preparing ever since last season. Throughout the spring and the fall I have put myself into game preparation mode. I feel like I have received a lot of experience from last year by learning from Sam Hunt, and coach has taught me a lot of things."
Linebacker Joe Henderson
On what a game one victory would mean
"I think if we get out and get a victory on our home field it will do a lot for our program, take a lot of pressure off of our shoulders and get the season going right."
On stepping up as a leader
"I have taken a lot of leadership with the defense. I have talked to them about how we need to go out this week, practice really hard and really focus."
On Coach Callaway
"In the second year with Coach Callaway, we know what to expect. We know what it will take and what the coaches are trying to do. Everybody knows it will take hard work and hard practice."