Running back Carlos Stephens will probably play a role next Saturday when UAB makes its historic return to the football field. That’s a big deal to the former Thompson Warrior standout.
“I won’t say it’s overwhelming,” Stephens said, before hesitating for a moment. “What’s the word for it? You know overjoyed about something, at the same time it’s like ‘Wow, it’s here.’”
Some probably would have predicted that the 5-foot-7, 190-pound Stephens wouldn’t be a significant part of the Blazers’ triumphant return on Saturday against Alabama A&M at Legion Field. After all, he was an unheralded walk-on player, who found himself in a crowded group of running backs.
Fortunately, Stephens thought differently.
“When I first came in, I knew I could play here,” Stephens said.
Proving that to everyone else was the hard part, especially while getting adjusted to the speed and mentality of college football. Most of the other running backs on the roster in the fall of 2016, which was Stephens’ first with the team, had at least some junior college or major college experience.
Getting noticed wasn’t easy.
“At first, yes, it was hard,” Stephens said. “The coaches have the players they brought in. You have to do everything two times better than a player on scholarship, just for them to notice you. You have to keep it up, once they notice you.”
Stephens kept plugging away through last fall, during offseason work and into spring practice. He showed toughness and burst during the UAB Spring Game, while playing against the top defensive players on the team. He didn’t have big numbers in the spring game, 12 carries for 17 yards, but did have the Gold team’s lone score on a 5-yard run.
Overall, though, he was pleased with the way he played in the spring.
“I felt the fall of last year, I put in so much work,” Stephens said. “When I hit the field again, it felt like everything I worked on and all the time I spent with the coaches, all that played a role in helping me out.”
During the summer, he not only worked with his teammates but also spent plenty of time in the film room. Once fall camp opened, he used the crowded backfield to help push him.
“It helps a lot,” Stephens said. “There is always competition. When you are surrounded by competition, it’s natural that you have to step your game up. Everybody needs to get better every day and you’re always competing.”
His role kept expanding during fall camp. UAB head coach Bill Clark praised him for his play during the first scrimmage and Stephens said he got reps with the first two units.
“He’s a guy who is a walk-on, trying to earn his way, just by being solid and dependable,” Clark said.
Only time will tell how much playing time he gets this season. Getting snaps and touches is still difficult when surrounded by other talented running backs. He’s also similar in size and skill set to projected starter James Noble III. Both bring speed, elusiveness and explosive play capability to the team. The other backs in the rotation are bigger and brings different things to the offense. However, Stephens is happy to be in the conversation.
“It’s a really good feeling,” Stephens said. “It just makes me want to push even harder. Seeing the work I put in, how it pays off, it makes me want to work even harder. I give all of it to God.”