Nov. 16, 2010
By Sarah Fitzpatrick
UAB Athletic Media Relations
Ask any member of the UAB football team's 2010 senior class about the most significant change Blazer head coach Neil Callaway made to the team when he took over four years ago and you'll get the same answer. Discipline.
This year's class is a combination of fifth-year seniors that were redshirt freshmen under the former coaching staff, and fourth-year seniors that started out with Callaway in his first season at UAB in 2007.
Either way, the core of this senior class has been with Callaway since the beginning and has an appreciation for the type of program he is building.
"There are a handful that were here before we got here, but in all sincerity we've been together four years; they're ours," Callaway said. "We're grateful for their attitude and the way they've bought in. I've enjoyed watching them mature and grow to be young men. They've taken responsibility and done things the right way."
This year's class has been through the growing pains that come with a new coaching staff and has been imperative to laying new groundwork for a winning tradition at UAB.
"The changes have been outstanding," fifth-year senior offensive lineman Logan Creel said. "It has been a complete 180-degree turnaround. The discipline is better, and everybody's buying into what Coach Callaway wants us to do. We haven't had the success that we have wanted to have over the last four years, but I feel like the program is heading in the right direction and that these last four years have really set the tone for where this program's going."
The Blazers finished at with a record of 2-10 in 2007, improved to 4-8 in 2008 and finished with a 5-7 record in 2009.
"When coach first got here, he was really trying to make his mark and weed out guys that he felt weren't a good fit for the program going forward," UAB senior wide receiver Mario Wright said. "There was a lot of discipline from the start, and to me, that really helped the team because it got rid of guys that didn't buy into the program."
"Coach Callaway is really strict about the little things and doing everything the right way," Turner said. "It always takes time when you're doing everything right because you build a base and continue to build up from there. I think this program has changed dramatically. It might not always be showing on the scoreboard, but the program is improving."
The seniors haven taken Callaway's lessons of discipline and work ethic to heart and have taken it upon themselves to set a new standard on the gridiron for incoming UAB recruits and current underclassmen.
"I think the younger players have learned to work hard every day at practice and at everything they do because Coach Callaway has taught us about working hard," UAB senior safety Brock Ferguson said. "We have improved our work ethic both on and off the field, and now the younger players have picked up on that and are working harder than we did."
The Blazers' 2010 starting lineup has typically featured seven seniors depending on the game, including LG Greg Bulls, WR Frantrell Forrest, TE Jeffery Anderson, WR Mike Jones, DE Turner, DT D.J. Reese and DE Darrion Wilson, and they have racked up quite a few accomplishments already this season.
On the offensive side of the ball, Jones has recorded seven touchdown receptions through the Blazers' first 10 games to tie for No. 6 on UAB's all-time list for receiving scores in a season. Against East Carolina, Jones tied his career-high for receptions with eight and set a new personal-best mark for receiving yards with 110.
Fellow receiver Forrest has surpassed former Blazer star Roddy White to become No. 2 on the UAB career list for receptions (164) and is third in receiving yards (2,215) and receiving touchdowns (20).
Anderson has played in every game since his freshman year and has started every game this season to make his mark on the field. Against East Carolina, the Selma, Ala., product caught a career-high seven passes for 82 yards. He has recorded 85 career receptions for 1,264 yards and 12 touchdowns and has twice been named to the watch list for the John Mackey Award, which is presented annually to the nation's most outstanding tight end.
"I think leadership is the lasting impact we'll have," Anderson said. "The fifth-year seniors knew what it was like before and now we're trying to show our teammates that the more disciplined you are in your life, the more successful you'll be.
On the defensive side, Turner has recorded 8.5 tackles for loss this season, including five sacks. The Daphne, Ala., product currently ranks sixth in Conference USA in sacks and No. 7 all-time at UAB with 16 sacks in his career.
The seniors have worked hard this season to leave a legacy at UAB through their accomplishments, work ethic and guidance to those coming through the ranks in the Green and Gold.
"I think it's at a point where I can see them helping (the younger players) not just on the field but off the field," Callaway said. "They're trying to make sure our younger guys understand everything that goes into not just playing football, but school, life and all those things."
Turner sees championships in UAB's future and believes Callaway has brought in well-rounded players that can make that happen.
"I think Coach Callaway did a great job recruiting quality guys," Turner said. "They are trying to do the right thing and are listening to the coaches."
While not all members of the senior class are leaving their names in the school record books, they have all made their own impact during their time at UAB.
With two games left in the 2010 regular season, the seniors are grateful for their experiences at UAB and know they'll take a lot away from their time in the Green and Gold.
Wright has seen action in six games this season. Although his senior season ended a few games sooner than he would have liked due to medical issues, he has already started to learn from the experience.
"I've definitely learned that life sometimes throws you curveballs," Wright said. "But my teammates have helped me through and I have a lot of good memories from my time here. I love it here at UAB. If I could do it over again, I promise I would."
Wright believes that he and his fellow seniors have had a good influence on the underclassmen.
"A lot of young guys call me for advice, and when I see them doing things wrong, I try to correct them like Nick Coon, Sylvester Mencer and Darryl Harris did for me when I was a freshman," Wright said. "I feel they taught me well and now I'm teaching the young guys what I have learned."
Creel, who has seen reserve duty on the offensive line the last three seasons and has played nine games this year on the field goal unit, demonstrates a strong work ethic and a willingness to continue to fight, which is the legacy he hopes his class will leave.
On a similar note, Ferguson, who has seen reserve action in the secondary over the last three years, has learned about never giving up.
"During my time here, I've learned not to quit when things get tough," Ferguson said. "I know there have been a lot of tough times over the last few years, but our team never quit. From that I've learned that in my life after UAB, when things get tough, I just need to keep working hard."
"I will take away memories and some of the best friends I'll ever have in my life," Creel said. "Just everything these coaches have put us through and the work ethic that they've taught us is basically going to set us right for everything else we want to do in our lives. It's going to make things easier than they ever would have been."
Although there are still two games left in the 2010 season, this UAB senior class has already left its mark on the Blazer football program.