‘Coming to the top’: UAB’s young tight ends thriving in spring practice – AL.com

2022 UAB tight ends spring practice
Whether by land, sea or air, the tight end has become an offensive fulcrum for the UAB football team over the last couple of seasons.
Hayden Pittman played in all 63 games of his career, beginning with UAB’s return to the field in 2017, and Gerrit Prince opened the playbook wider with his soft hands and gazelle-like speed. Both have graduated, moving forward with potential opportunities at the next level, but left an indelible signature on the Blazers’ offense.
“Here at UAB, the offense runs through the tight end,” redshirt junior and returning tight end Terrell McDonald said. “We set the tone and everybody plays off of us. Tight ends run the offense.”
The Blazers lost 100 percent of its tight end production from last season — every reception, yard and touchdown accrued by Pittman and Prince — but have a plethora of talent within its position pool vying to advance the role further. UAB wraps up spring practice this week with the annual Green and Gold Game, Saturday, April 9, at Protective Stadium in Birmingham.
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“There’s always competition,” McDonald said. “We got great younger guys coming in and we’re just trying to learn, nothing is set in stone right now. We’re missing two good guys that graduated and we’re trying to fill some spots and play some roles.”
The loss of Pittman and Prince notwithstanding, UAB also saw former tight ends coach Joe Craddock leave for the offensive coordinator position at Troy during the offseason. Wanting stability with the program, special teams coordinator Heath Thomas was given reign over the tight ends, allowing Handley Brigham to return to full-time on the field duties as running backs coach.
“Coach Thomas has been with me for a while and he does a great job with those guys,” UAB head coach Bill Clark said. “They got big shoes to fill and we love to use our tight ends. We probably use our tight ends as much as anybody and we got some good options there. They’re working hard and there are multiple guys that can play.”
The tight end position was somewhat dormant the first couple of years in the return of the program, primarily due to injuries amongst the majority of the players. Pittman was forced into service earlier thane expected and played in every single game possible of his college career, even recording a 32-game reception streak between the 2019-2021 seasons.
Meanwhile, Prince joined the team in 2018 and flashed his potential during the 2019-2020 seasons before breaking out last season with a team-high 36 receptions for 699 yards and a team-leading 10 touchdown catches. He led all tight ends nationally, averaging 19.4 yards per reception.
“Pitt was a warrior and Prince really took off with the passing-game stuff,” Thomas said. “Really, we’re trying to have the ‘next man up’ type of mentality. That void has been created and there are guys trying to step into that role.”
Pittman and Prince not only created a one-two punch at the position but developed a strong friendship and comradery that McDonald states infected the rest of the room.
“Pitt and Prince set the foundation for our brotherhood,” he said. “They were competing but still brothers. We all went out together and it was never A1 or A2, we were all A1 in our heads.”
McDonald, who originally signed with UAB as a standout linebacker from Muscle Shoals, is the only returning tight end with a reception on the FBS level, appearing in 21 games with two starts, and has embraced leadership for a group seeking direction.
Another holding the rope in the leadership department is former Garden City (Kan.) transfer Maleak Bryant. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound redshirt senior played in three games for UAB during the 2020 season but missed all of last year with a leg injury.
Bryant was never deterred, routinely appearing at practices in support of his teammates and remaining a fixture within the program.
“It feels good and all I can do is thank God and my teammates,” Bryant said. “Everybody, even when I’ve made mistakes, they keep supporting me and I’m getting one percent better every day. One thing I did differently during my injury was I got a mentor. I talked to him three times a week, stayed in touch with the guys and kept praying.”
Along with Bryant and McDonald, UAB is expecting contributions from JUCO transfers Bryce Damous, who appeared in one game last season, and Dallas Payne, a former wide receiver making the move to the interior.
“We’re getting Maleak back right now, it’s good to see him out there working,” Thomas said. “We got some older guys with some experience with T-Mac (McDonald) coming back and Bryce Damous coming on now. We got a new guy, Dallas Payne, he’s a converted guy from the outside and has done very well.”
A promising young talent that could make an impact in the fall is Brody Dalton, a physical player in the mold of Pittman who helped lead a championship program at Fyffe.
“We’re definitely expecting a lot out of him,” Thomas said. “He was a young guy, looking to develop a little bit last year, and now he’s going to be thrown into the fire as well. All of the guys, the competition is wide-open and it’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out.”
Regardless of how the competition irons itself out during fall camp, the example set by Pittman and Prince, as well as their hoarding of the offense, is making a lasting impact on those that come behind.
“We’re a brotherhood, if one’s down we’re picking that one person up,” Bryant said. “There’s no fighting or any of that stuff. Last year, it was just them two (Pittman and Prince) so we were all at the bottom together and now we’re all coming to the top together.”
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