BOZICH | Former roommates Staples (U of L), Howard (IU) making U - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Former roommates Staples (U of L), Howard (IU) making UAB football proud

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Despite missing four games, Jamari Staples leads Louisville with 35 receptions. Despite missing four games, Jamari Staples leads Louisville with 35 receptions.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – At Louisville, Jamari Staples has shown the ability to replace DeVante Parker, the first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins.

At Indiana, Jordan Howard has shown the skills to replace Tevin Coleman, who has started two games for the Atlanta Falcons.

I realize it's Louisville/Kentucky and Indiana/Purdue week, but I have to begin with this observation about Staples and Howard, who were roommates in Birmingham a year ago:

What was UAB thinking when the school in Birmingham shuttered a football program that featured Staples at receiver and Jordan at running back? Wouldn't the Blazers have been a contender in Conference USA?

UAB's loss has moved the sticks at Louisville as well as Indiana.

At 6 feet 4 and 196 pounds, Staples has been a consistently dangerous weapon in a passing attack that has been inconsistent throwing the football. Despite missing the first four games with injuries, Staples leads the Cardinals in receptions (35) and yards (599).

Ditto for Howard at IU. He's second to Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State in total rushing yards in the Big Ten, but only because Howard has missed nearly three complete games with injuries. Even with time in the training room, Howard has produced six games of 145 or more yards.

Staples punished Pittsburgh with nine receptions for 194 yards, but suffered what he described as a shoulder injury late in the game. He said that he expects to play against Kentucky in Commonwealth Stadium Saturday.

"We're hopeful that he'll get ready to play," U of L coach Bobby Petrino said. "The good thing is that it was not a head injury … he certainly had a great game.

"You talk about someone competing extremely hard and making plays and doing everything that he possibly can do. Run after catch, probably the best we've seen him run after catch."

Staples did not put up monster numbers at UAB last season -- only nine receptions for 190 yards and one touchdown.

One reason is that Staples was not healthy, dealing with what he described as "lower body," injuries. Another reason is UAB kept feeding the football to Howard, who took it and ran for nearly 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns. UAB also featured J.J. Nelson, a receiver who plays for the Arizona Cardinals.

When UAB eliminated its football program after the 2014 season, both players were free agents, released to play immediately with any program in the country.

Indiana moved quickly to recruit Howard, selling him on the potential to earn all the carries that Coleman had for the Hoosiers the last three seasons. He committed in early January. He has excelled in Kevin Wilson's offense. IU will need a big game from Howard to earn its sixth victory at Purdue Saturday.

Howard's uncle, Selwynn Howard, told me in an email message that former Blazers are excelling across the nation. 

This is what Selwynn Howard wrote: "Jake Ganus starts at LB and is the leading tackler for Georgia, Victor Salako is a starting offensive lineman for Oklahoma State.  They have other players starting at Western Kentucky, South Alabama, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, and other places.

"This year's team would have been loaded for bear playing in Conference USA and may have won 10 ball games.  It's a shame politics got in the way."

Louisville had a solid connection at UAB, too. Assistant head coach Garrick McGee recruited Staples to UAB. The Cardinals also had plenty of playing time to offer with Parker departing for the NFL.

"They mentioned (Parker) a couple of times and showed me the different highlights and the rest of the team's highlights as well," Staples said. "I was impressed with it …

"We played the same position … it caught my eye as to what could happen."

What has happened, once Staples got healthy and finally played in the Cards' fifth game, is he has developed into the team's most reliable and potent receiver, a jumbo-sized target who takes advantage of his size against smaller cornerbacks.

Utilizing large receivers has always been a Petrino specialty. Of Staples' 35 catches, 27 have resulted in first downs and 14 have resulted in gains of at least 15 yards.

"It's definitely an advantage just to be able to go up and make big catches on high passes," Staples said. "All in all, it's about competing. You have to compete, regardless of the size of the man in front of you."

The competition Saturday will be rivalry competition. As a kid who grew up in Lineville, Ala., and then played in Birmingham, Staples' frame of reference for a college rivalry is Alabama vs. Auburn, a rivalry he describes as "really, really deep Southern hatred."

Hatred is not a word that Staples used to describe the U of L-UK game, which is a good thing. He said that after he committed to Louisville, the first local fan who started to follow him on Twitter was actually a Kentucky fan.

But Staples understands what is on the line Saturday.

"Bragging rights," he said.

Considering what Staples and Jordan Howard have achieved this season, it will be bragging rights for UAB, too.

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