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Blazer Faithful: Imagine a Truly Free UAB

Even after the #FreeUAB movement took down a political machine, some still have no imagination when they look at UAB.

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Editor's Note: Tyler Cantrell experienced the UAB football reinstatement on the school's campus. He's a UAB alum and a 10-year fan of the Blazers. This is his account of what happened June 1.

As I stood and watched the press conference and aftermath of UAB's dramatic reinstatement of football, bowling and rifle, I felt completely numb. At least in the beginning.

Despite multiple reports saying the programs were coming back I knew I couldn't believe it until I heard it straight from President Ray Watts's mouth. Although Watts appeared to be allergic to the podium and even seemed to reference Obamacare as one of the reasons the sports were originally disbanded, he did utter those words reinstating the programs.

The Blazer faithful had just defeated a political machine to get their teams back.

For a brief moment my eyes watered up, and not because I'll get to attend football games at my alma mater again. Athletic competition is great but it's certainly not life or death. I was emotional for all of the people who make up those teams. Coaches, players, managers, janitors, alumni, fans, teachers, and the list goes on. Those people are my Blazer family and the pain they have been put through hit me all at once. Finally some healing can begin to take place.

Imagine the pain the coaches and their families experienced after coming in less than a year before the disbandment.

Imagine the agony of former players who physically hurt every day from their sacrifices to the program.

Imagine the fear current players felt about their futures after they chose UAB and then their university threw them away.

Imagine the anguish of a fan base that's been stepped on time and time again before having the ultimate blow dealt to them.

Now imagine all of those people being able to heal now, but more importantly, heal together.

Ye of Little Faith

As the dust settled and the Blazer celebration continued, I found people outside the UAB family here in Alabama who had trouble imagining anything the Blazers could do or had been through. I listened to local radio and television personalities saying things like "How can UAB recover from this," and "They will not even field a team for several years," and even "It will take a decade for them to be competitive."

Really? After what UAB fans just accomplished, I strongly disagree.

After being disbanded for only six months, the UAB faithful got their sport programs restored. The little guy fought the system (the Alabama Board of Trustees) and for the first time in a while David just beat Goliath. The BoT has all the money, power and backing of powerful people, yet it was just overwhelmed by fans, alumni, local press and social media.

Those were the things we used as our "rock' to take down Goliath.

The little guys at UAB used whatever they had to win. Some helped gather resolutions in support. Some went and rallied in Montgomery. Some created student groups. Some led social media storms causing #freeUAB to trend nationally and globally on Twitter. Some created #freeUAB shirts and car magnets. Some rallied students and faculty to vote no confidence in Watts. Some started pledge and season ticket drives for a team that officially didn't exist. Some even put together a flag football contest so the Blazers could still have a spring game. Any rock Blazer fans found, you can be sure they hurled it.

UAB football fans essentially raised $30 million in one month. The $7.5 million donation by Jimmy Filler and his friends is larger than any single donation the University of Florida has ever collected.

Apparently, you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. Birmingham and UAB have embraced Blazer athletics like never before. You don't spend $30 million on anything and not stick around to help it develop.

Odds Already Defied

For the people who believe UAB will take years to rise from the ashes: We did that in Bill Clark's first year.

Clark proved he could win with less, and guess who's still UAB's football coach? You better believe Clark will have a football team in 2016 with full scholarship numbers. There are over 30 players still on campus. Add in 25 for the 2016 class and 25 junior college players and Blazer football is alive just like that. UAB is about to have football facilities like it's never had before. I fully expect the Blazers to be better than they were last season by 2020.

It's all huge to me.

Amidst the celebration from the Blazer faithful, some just couldn't stand all the attention focused on UAB. So they kept telling UAB what it can't do even after the greatest hurdle was already cleared. I hope the people who find our task daunting don't mind while we keep partying. We will raise whatever money necessary to make ALL Blazer sports competitive.

As a matter of fact, I'll no longer be imagining anything, because dreams are already coming true for the UAB family. UAB faithful are helping make Birmingham the Magic City once more.

If you still don't believe UAB can have a successful program sooner than later, just go ask Goliath. He'll be laid out somewhere in a Bryant Bank parking lot.