By Erik Harris
For The Tribune
BIRMINGHAM — Last Wednesday was one of the most crucial days on the calendar for the UAB football program and its new head coach Bill Clark.
It wasn’t a big game; the Blazers don’t suit up for live action for another six months. It wasn’t even about practice; Clark will whistle up for his first organized session with the team March 12.
No, last Wednesday marked the day widely known as National Signing Day. And despite Clark’s strong ties and keen familiarity to the state of Alabama, his first signing class has only one homegrown prospect—Hewitt-Trussville defensive end Joseph Roberts—on it.
The 2014 class is 22 players deep with an unusual West Coast flavor. Nearly one-third of the faxes came in from the state of California. Five faxed in from Georgia, three from both Florida and Mississippi; South Carolina, Tennessee and Illinois produced one player each.
The fact that he is the lone Alabamian in the batch of newcomers fails to faze Roberts, who said he is “super excited” to play for Clark.
“I think I am going to be a part of something special. I feel confidant that coach Clark will make UAB a winning program,” Roberts said.
The lack of in-state recruits is mainly the result of Clark’s lack of time in putting the class together. He took the reigns in Birmingham in late January, giving him virtually no time to change former coach Garrick McGee’s path.
When questioned about the extremely low number of in-state signees, Clark answered, “That will change next year.”
“Any time we can get guys from our state, from our area, we want to,” he said.
One thing Clark doesn’t want changing is the motor on his one and only Alabama signee. Roberts might play on the defensive front, but that doesn’t stop him from playing sideline to sideline. At 6-foot-3, Roberts is no stranger to tracking down skill players 20 or more yards downfield.
“We think he can bulk up and be a defensive end, he runs like a linebacker and maybe like a DB,” Clark said.
The senior finished fifth on the Hewitt-Trussville defense with 76 tackles, nine of them for a loss, in 2013. His three sacks tied him for first on the team and he tallied three pass breakups.
“I bring to the table speed, (which makes) a good edge rusher applying pressure on the quarterback,” Roberts said. “I will play whatever the coach needs me that will benefit the team.”
His versatility was routinely put on display for the Huskies’ special teams units. While covering kicks, Roberts showed his ability to play in the open field and make tackles in space. Those attributes lead Clark to believe the Trussville native will fit nicely at Jack linebacker—a hybrid player that can rush the passer or drop into coverage.
Getting in the weight room and bulking up will be crucial for Roberts. Clark believes the combination of nutrition and lifting will add substantial size and prepare the newcomer for the college game.
“This is gonna be one of those guys that in two years no one is gonna know who he is because he’s gonna put all this weight on and it will be good weight because he’s a worker,” Clark said. “He will live in that weight room.”