'Blazer Nation' fans ready to support UAB football
The ground is broken on a new UAB football practice field. The ceremony renewed energy for the Blazer's return to the gridiron next year.
The Blazers are pumped up and so are fans of Blazer Nation. Hundreds enjoyed Fanfest before Monday's 'Green and Gold' game. The game will mark the UAB football team's first time on the field in nearly two years. School leaders needed nearly $20 million to bring football back. Today, none are worried.
UAB Blazers are burning 40 million paths from wallets to the football field.
"I don't think there is any program in the country, regardless of conference, who wouldn't be thrilled with that effort," said UAB's Athletics Director Mark Ingram.
Ingram remembers, over the last 10 years, a yearly average of fundraising totaling $2.5 million. Donors pledged more than $40 million to the school in the last 15 months.
"We had to raise over $17 million to reinstate the football, bowling and rifle programs. We've raised more than $20 million for this facility. We have our Blazer Booster fundraising that we have had in the past for our annual fund," added Ingram.
UAB Honorary Football Player Tim Alexander is proud of Blazer Nation's history on the field and happy that the team is being afforded more opportunities to make more.
"All of the students, with the whole football team, were on this ground. We were on this grass just thinking about what was going to come next. We all talked about how everything was going to happen one day," said Alexander.
Today, UAB's fundraising team continues to count money from donors. UAB's athletic director is not quite ready to say how much has come in but does not have any reason to doubt dollars pledged.
"I don't have any concern. I take people at their word. But, these are signed pledges. These are not verbal agreements," added Ingram.
"It's just a long time coming for us to get to this spot. Of course, we have had moments along the way. I looked out and saw my wife and she was tearing up. It's just a lot of people who did a lot for us to be here," said head coach Bill Clark.
Quotes from UAB's groundbreaking ceremony:
UAB AD Mark Ingram
"Thanks everybody for being here. I remember last year, June 1, thinking what a big day that was, and how we're going to have so many more wonderful moments in our history together, like this one here today. This is just another big moment in our athletics department's history. There's a lot of people to recognize and thank."
"(The Gang of Seven's) tireless efforts, along with Dr. Watts and our board, has positioned us to be more successful than ever before. Coach (Bill) Clark and I, along with several members of our staff, have spent the last nine months working with our local architects, Goodwyn Mills & Cawood, and Kansas City architects, HOK, to design one of the most efficient facilities of its kind in the country. I've had other athletic directors, four that I can think of off the top of my head, that have seen the design, and are calling to ask about it, `How did we come up with this?' I assure you, we may be the first, but we won't be the last, because it's that special and that unique."
"Our contractor was identified just the other day. We look forward to working with M.J. Harris Construction on this exciting project. I know a few of their representatives are here today, somewhere in the crowd. Coach, we're going to need to get these guys a jersey, because they're a part of the team."
"Projects like this have a whole group of people that are behind the scenes doing things, and working hard to make it happen. I really do appreciate the work of our local facilities team here on campus, who I antagonized with questions, and ideas, and thoughts, and all of those things. They haven't quit yet, which I appreciate as well. Don't get too cocky guys, there's more work coming and more questions, I promise."
"This new football operations center is going to be 46,000 square feet. It's going to have a locker room, training room, offices, meeting rooms, weight room for our football team, and attached to that will be a covered field like we've talked about, called Legacy Pavilion. This facility is going to be a tremendous advantage to our teams, so that we can practice in inclement weather. This is something that we have not had before and I know it will be special, and certainly football."
"This program has been given a second chance, and this facility indicates we're making the most of it. We've all been looking forward to today, and I know as soon as we break ground here in just a minute, we'll also be eagerly looking forward to the day that we get to cut the ribbon, so I look forward to everybody joining us here next summer and helping us do that."
Head Coach Bill Clark
"If you don't get a little emotional right now, I was just sitting there thinking of where we came from."
"I do this sometimes when I'm talking to the team, and the former players I see here who have bled and sweated on this field before to represent this community, let's thank those guys for fighting."
"Football is not more important than academics, it's not more important than your faith, it's not more important than family, but it is important. Of course, I'm a football coach. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for fighting for our community."
"We're looking for, what did we say Mark, about a year from now? Next July, we're going to be here. Right across town, we're going to be looking for something else real soon too. That's the next step. Right now, we're looking at this."
Chairman of Campaign Committee Hatton Smith:
"This grass that you're on, this tent, the building over there, what do they have in common? They are going to be history! It won't be here anymore. What you want to do is get a little grass, because you'll have it as a memento."
"This was a vision. It was about UAB, because UAB matters. UAB is the most powerful engine in our community. This gift was to the community, for Birmingham. This was a gift because we believe in our city. We are marching forward. This is going to be the city in which to live. It's a victory for our city.
"We are going to win."
UAB President Ray Watts
"UAB and our community have been so important to one another over the last 50 years."
"We are still young but we are still growing and we are excited about everyone being with us. So many people helped make today possible, and they also helped make the tremendous campus you see around us."
"Out staff, our students, our student-athletes, our supporters, our community, our community partners, our elected officials, and our UA System leadership and trustees we're so grateful for your participation in this."
President and CEO of Legacy Community Federal Credit Union Joe McGee:
"We're happy to be a part of this historic occasion which represents a visible beginning of the journey that is UAB Athletics."
"Today, as we commemorate the groundbreaking, we are celebrating among friends. Friends who share our vision of the future for UAB and the Birmingham community. Friends who recognize the role that UAB plays in higher education and the vital key that it is as an economic engine in this community. Friends who are leaders, who will inspire the next generation to make their own contributions. Friends and donors who have stepped up to expand their level of support and make this concept a reality."
"While we are just breaking ground today, we will soon see tangible evidence of our project."