Tevin Crews was still trying to get used to his new title: former football player. 

His program, UAB, had been shut down after the 2014 season, and late-season shoulder surgery limited his options for a free transfer. Nobody wanted to roll the dice on a banged-up safety who might not be ready for the season opener and likely couldn't practice full speed with his new team until games began. 

So Crews, still finishing a degree, started eyeing his post-football career. It started with an internship at Northwestern Mutual. He spent his leftover, newfound free time at a valet job at Birmingham's Westin Hotel to make money on the side. 

One random afternoon, his former coach, Bill Clark, strolled out of the Todd English P.U.B. in the hotel and flagged down the familiar face racing through the parking lot. 

"There were always rumors the program was coming back," Crews remembers. 

Clark stayed largely uninvolved in the grassroots efforts to revive the program, but late in the process became more active in the Birmingham Revival. He knew what was coming and told his ex-starting safety he wanted him back on the team. 

"I was all in as soon as I heard that," Crews said. "No hesitation and no questions asked." 

Two weeks later, in June 2015, it was official: UAB football was back.

That was a little more than a year ago. Now, it's talking season. Optimism is everywhere, outpaced only by anticipation. Last week, Clark went to Dallas for his portion of talking season: Conference USA media days. He's not alone. There are 128 other FBS head coaches around the country undergoing the annual rite of late summer. The difference? The other 128 have to wait only another month before live action. 

Clark and his patchwork roster of leftovers, walk-ons, junior college transfers and a few late additions have a year left on their sentence before the real games start again in 2017, after what will have been a two-year absence.

"I see us being like the teams you hear about, the Houstons, the Memphises. Louisville. That's the dream," Clark said. "But I don't know that there's a book for this thing."

If there was, Clark would be the candidate to write it. 

This isn't the first time Clark has helped build a program from scratch. After establishing Prattville (AL) as a national high school power, Clark jumped to South Alabama as the Jaguars' defensive coordinator. That was 2008. A year later, the program played its first game, spending two years as an unclassified NCAA member. In 2011, it joined the FCS. The next year, it jumped to the FBS. From conception to joining the FBS, South Alabama had six years to get ready. 

Clark is trying to build UAB back from defunct into an FBS member again in a little more than two years. 

"People ask me, 'How good are y'all going to be?'" Clark said. "I have no clue." 

* * *

Clark is done telling the story of how his program was shut down. 

"It was awful," he says, "but we've answered that question so many times." 

Not long ago, UAB's story sounded like it was over.

"It don't get much tougher than that," Clark said. "For those guys, it's not just a loss of a team, those guys will have to go out and find a job. It was beyond tough. So you're helping coaches find jobs, helping players find scholarships."

When the program ended, Clark's roster dissipated in an unprecedented college football diaspora. All-Conference USA running back Jordan Howard went to Indiana and became an All-Big Ten talent and NFL draft pick. Others landed at schools like Georgia, Oklahoma State, Louisville and other smaller programs. The only players who stayed were those like Crews who were either ready to focus on studying and pursuing employment or those who couldn't earn scholarships elsewhere for a variety of reasons. 

The program was shut down in December, right at the kickoff of coaching's silly season. A handful of Clark's assistants, like then-defensive line coach turned defensive coordinator David Reeves, stuck with Clark. That's the best way to say it, too, rather than staying at UAB out of loyalty to a school that showed none to its football program. 

Reeves turned down "several" job offers to stay with Clark at UAB. His hope: If UAB didn't come back, he could follow Clark to his next coaching stop.  

"There are a lot of people that talk a really good game and talk about family and care of each other," Reeves said. "He doesn't just talk it. He walks the walk. I believe in his vision and I trust him as a friend and a leader. I wanted to be with Coach Clark. I knew we were going to do great things. I consider him family. It's easier to do this thing if you feel like you're with family." 

In Clark's first season at UAB, he went 6-6, the program's best record since 2004. Since joining Division I in 1996, the program has won more than six games only once and played in just one bowl game. In that respect, the team's demise felt especially cruel, especially considering Clark had inspired the second-largest turnaround in attendance among FBS programs.  

Reeves was determined to help carry out the vision Clark had for his program. Maybe that happened at UAB if rumors of a return became reality, but if it happened elsewhere, he wanted to be there for it. Nobody directly discouraged him from pursuing work elsewhere, but he felt the passive aggressiveness when he explained his plan. 

"It's kind of like when your pet dies or something, people don't want to say a bunch of bad stuff," Reeves said.

It helped that UAB was still honoring his contract and issuing him paychecks, but Reeves spent last fall consulting with high schools while building the program in Birmingham.

Six months after the program was shut down, it returned, and Clark could get back to work. He'd been given the gift of getting to write more chapters in the future of the program. He's spent the last year ensuring their quality. 

When the program was officially reinstated, it was June. Clark knew finding a real, permanent staff was impossible. 

"I couldn't ask them to leave their team," he said. 

He held on to a handful of leftover coaches and added student assistants. 

"It was just a piecemeal group of guys that had a lot of faith," Clark said. 

With eyes on 2017, Clark started piecing together a gutted roster that had just 15 players in the wake of the program's shutdown. On Sept. 2, 2017, the Blazers will kick off against Alabama A&M, and he's well aware it can't happen with a roster full of freshmen. 

"That wouldn't be fair to anybody," he said. 

So Clark and his patchwork staff spent the last year mining junior colleges and FBS transfers for players who could use a year to focus on academics or nurse an injury, or just needed a place for a fresh start. Several former Blazers dialed up their former coach when they heard the program was coming back. Clark told them not to come. 

"I know you love UAB and you love our coaching staff, but I think you're better off where you are," Clark told them. "One of the first things I told people was, 'I don't want our former players coming back if it's not great for them.'"

Players with only a year or two of eligibility left want playing time, and Clark has more than anyone to offer. That's easy when you barely have a team. 

Last season, when Clark wasn't recruiting or hosting official visits on his newly free fall Saturdays, he was parked in front of a television, watching his former players play out their careers across the country. After the season, Clark refilled his staff, adding veteran Les Koenning from Texas as offensive coordinator. Casey Woods jumped from Auburn to coach inside receivers and tight ends after serving as a quality control assistant on Gus Malzahn's staff. 

This spring, the Blazers practiced with just 57 players. When fall camp opens up later this month, UAB will have over 100 players in pads, but around 40 will be walk-ons. FBS teams are allowed 85 scholarship players. 

Clark has spent more time than ever fundraising, whipping up support for his program. He's been successful. In the last 15 months, the program has raised $39 million. It will have a new, $22.5 million football facility, pavilion and practice fields ready for the start of the 2017 season. 

"When you see a place that actually shut the program down, you've got confidence hurt," Clark said. "The business leaders of our community stepped forward and said, 'We believe in UAB, we believe in Birmingham and we're going to invest.'"

They bought -- literally -- his vision of UAB as a nationally relevant program striving to become a Group of Five power. 

For now? The team works and waits. The Blazers will scrimmage on Aug. 29 and host another public homecoming scrimmage on Oct. 20. Saturdays this season will be reserved for intense practices, likely with full pads. 

But Clark knows they're a far cry from real games. In preseason, he plans to build camp as if his team has a game this September. To motivate the team, he's pointed to what the new facilities signify. He's drawn on his own experience as high school coach for almost 20 years and his experiences as the son of a high school coach. 

Clark feels it when he goes to a local camp and a mom says, "Thanks for staying in Birmingham." Sometimes, it's a fellow patron at a local restaurant. 

"I know it sounds corny, but it's what happens to me every day," Clark said. "It might be a guy in an Alabama hat, who says I'm always going to be an Alabama fan, but I'm going to be a UAB fan, too. It's really been cool for something so awful to turn into something really good." 

It's that idea that allows Clark to do his job without dwelling on the powers that briefly stripped him of it. You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone? Nobody knows that more than UAB and the Birmingham community. 

"You're playing for obviously you're family and yourself, but you're playing for something bigger than yourself," Clark said. "That is no doubt the deal here. This has become a Birmingham, metro area community deal. You know Alabama and Auburn, the fan bases, but this is really become this city's team. We had a great fan base. Now, this has expanded to Birmingham and the metro area and I think we've become a good story across the country." 

But now, it's time to wait. It'll get a lot harder when 128 teams are suiting up on Saturdays and Clark is stuck fundraising, practicing or watching games on TV. 

"We've got to do a great job of keeping these guys motivated," Clark said. "Right now, I see it, but we know we're going to go through some let downs. We've got to minimize those, keep them focused, focus on academics and they've got a chance to keep getting stronger."

For people like Clark, Reeves and Crews who were a part of UAB in its life, death and now its resurrection, four words that almost always mean pain leave them grinning.

There's always next year.

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