A.J. Erdely and UAB football are both looking for a second chance, so they made a perfect match.
The former West Forsyth standout and Mississippi Gulf Coast quarterback signed with the resurrected Blazers on Wednesday along with 18 other junior-college players who are expected to enroll this January.
It means the one-time Middle Tennessee quarterback will be back in Division I football after a year hiatus.
“Starting fresh and trying to make history,” Erdely said.
Erdely chose UAB over offers from South Alabama and Troy, but the circumstances of the Blazer’s return to football were enticing to Erdely.
Back on Dec. 2, 2014, UAB shut down its football, bowling and rifle teams after weeks of rumors and speculation that led to protests on the Birmingham, Alabama school campus. At the time, UAB president Rat Watts cited the rising costs of operating collegiate sports, saying “football is simply not sustainable,” marking the first time in almost two decades a Football Bowl Subdivision program had been terminated.
Six months later, UAB football was reinstated after individuals and members of the Birmingham business community raised $27 million. The school re-hired coach Bill Clark to a five-year contract and eyed a return to the field in 2017.
That worked in UAB’s favor when it recruited Erdely.
“I’ll get an extra year to play,” Erdely said. “For the school part, hopefully I can get a master’s degree or a minor or something if I want to. That extra year of school really got me.”
UAB gets a second chance at Division I college football, and now Erdely does too.
Erdely was arguably the most sought-after quarterback ever from Forsyth County when he led West to 21 wins from 2011-12, including an appearance in the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAA playoffs in 2011 and a region title in 2012. As a senior, he was the Forsyth County News’ Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 2,355 yards and 18 touchdowns and ran for 888 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Erdely signed with Middle Tennessee but grew frustrated with his lack of playing time. He was red-shirted his first year and played only sparingly as a red-shirt freshman, primarily in the team’s Wildcat formation.
Erdely wanted to get back to passing, so he left Middle Tennessee and landed at Mississippi Gulf Coast, a community college in Perkinston, Mississippi. Erdely said he got to be a student of the position again. He worked with offensive coordinator Jason Phillips on reading opposing defenses, refining his footwork and trying to release the ball quicker, and he thrived, going 163 of 253 (64.4 percent) for 1,881 yards with 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions as the Bulldogs went 8-3.
“I had to get back in the swing of things,” Erdely said. “…I feel like it helped me a lot.”
After signing his letter of intent Wednesday morning, Erdely drove back from Perkinston to Forsyth County that afternoon, eight hours to think about everything he’d been through – from the joys at West Forsyth, the frustrations at Middle Tennessee, the risks at Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Wednesday morning, it all felt worth it.
“It made me realize I was really thankful I picked such a great spot as Gulf Coast,” Erdely said. “I’m just lucky enough that I didn’t get hurt or anything. I just fit into the right system, and I ended up getting back into a D-I [program]. That was the goal at the beginning of everything.”