A quiet kid who gave up Big Macs to have more success, UAB’s Spencer Brown is making the college football world sit up and take notice with a run for the record books
Brown matter-of-factly admits that recruiters didn’t roam the halls of Mortimer Jordan High School or stake out his home in tiny Kimberly, Alabama, (population 2,964) looking to pitch their programs at any and every opportunity. He also freely admits that the list of colleges he was considering consisted of, “any school that would take me really. Just a chance to play college ball.”
At the same time Brown was wrapping up his high school career as a 235-pound running back with solid numbers in 2016, University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) head coach Bill Clark was still searching high and low for the players that would bring his Blazer football program back to life in 2017 after a two-year hiatus. And like the prospector who finds a gold nugget under his back doorstep, Clark found Brown in his own backyard and gave him the chance he was seeking.
The result has been nothing short of historic for Brown and the Blazers, who made a spectacular return to the college football ranks last season thanks in great part to the guy almost nobody wanted. After two years on the scrap heap, the Blazers finished the 2017 season 8-5 — a program best for Football Bowl Series (FBS) victories in a single season — and earned a bowl trip for only the second time ever.
Much of the credit for that miraculous revival goes to Brown, who did plenty to prove that lots of folks missed out on a good one from Mortimer Jordan.
“UAB and Kennesaw State were the only two legit schools that talked to me,” Brown said.
What Clark and company saw that apparently nobody else at the NCAA Division I level did was a player ready to step in and make a mark as a true freshman. By season’s end, Brown had played in all 13 of the Blazers’ games, started the final nine and earned Conference USA Freshman of the Year honors.
Along the way, he began rewriting the UAB rushing record book in a way that says someday soon he won’t just be climbing the stairs, he’ll own the penthouse. In 2017, Brown rushed for the third-most yards in school history with 1,329 and scored 10 touchdowns. He had six 100-plus yard rushing games, including a career high 209 yards against Southern Mississippi, the seventh-highest single game total in UAB history.
Brown cracked the Blazers’ career rushing Top 10 as a freshman, coming in at No. 9, and quickly moved into the No. 8 spot early in 2018. Going into UAB’s road matchup at Rice on Saturday, Brown has rushed for 461 yards and six touchdowns on the year and needs 141 yards to pass Corey White (1,925 yards) for seventh on the all-time list.
Going into his sophomore season, Brown has a shot at breaking all-time Blazer rushing leader Pat Green’s mark of 2,817 yards set from 1991-1994, though it will take a huge burst for him to achieve it this season. There is no doubt, however, that if Brown keeps pounding, he should break that record sometime early in 2019 .
“It’s a team game, but he is definitely running the ball well,” Clark said. “He’ll have that opportunity.”
Brown’s formula for success is pretty simple. Keep your mouth closed, your eyes open and run hard.
“When you first meet him, he comes off as the quiet, humble kid, but he is really confident,” right guard Malique Johnson said. “He’ll run hard and try to run through you.”
Clark echoed those sentiments almost exactly in describing Brown, who already stands fourth on the all-time list with eight 100-plus yard rushing games in his career and needs only five more to break Joe Webb’s record of 12.
“The thing that is good about him is that the gains where he should maybe get one or two yards, he gets three or four and the gains that are three or four yards, he gets seven or eight,” Clark said.
Brown, who truly is a man of few words, sees it as simply what he’s supposed to do. Asked if it was his goal to become UAB’s all-time leading rusher when he joined the team last year, Brown said, “It was my goal coming in. It should be the goal of every running back — to be the best.”
While Brown admits he didn’t expect success at the collegiate level to come so quickly, he is not surprised by it, either. His numbers say that he has certainly not been overwhelmed by playing at the D-I level, and he agrees that the college game has felt like any other for him.
“I just seeit as football being football,” Brown said. “I’ve been playing it my whole life.”
One thing that is different about him this year is that his playing weight is 220 versus 240. Over the offseason, Brown dropped 20 pounds by running and eating healthier, and the latter may have been the biggest challenge he’s encountered so far as a college football player.
“I had to change my diet a whole lot, and it wasn’t fun,” Brown said. “I loved Big Macs with extra sauce. But I knew I needed to lose weight. It makes me feel better as a runner and gives me the ability to cut better and have better down-the-field speed.”
For opposing defenses trying to stop Brown’s assaulton the record book that has been not good news, but he is one of just several UAB units or players sitting at or on the brink of history this season.
With a 28-7 win over Charlotte on Sept. 29, the Blazers won a record ninth straight home game at Legion Field, and a win over Rice would make them 5-1, matching the best start in school history posted by the 2004 team led by Roddy White. Since the program was reinstated, the Blazers are now 12-6 overall, and a win on Saturday would also tie the mark for most wins in a two-year span with 13.
The defense recorded the first shutout by the Blazers in 10 years with a 52-0 blanking of Savannah State in the season opener on Aug. 30, and came within 5:51 of another one against Charlotte.
Finally, senior quarterback A.J. Erdely has 21 career touchdown passes and needs just seven more to move into fourth place on the all-time list behind Darrell Hackney (71), John Whitcomb (53) and Joe Webb (37).
From what he’s seen from this team on the practice field and when the lights go on, it won’t surprise Brown if these records and more fall before year’s end.
Said Brown: “The sky’s the limit for this team.”
For Brown, too. H&A
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Photos by Al Blanton