Written by Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
I met Timothy Alexander online. As a UAB alumna and a member of the “Save UAB Football” Facebook group, I watched Alexander transform the negative energy and heartfelt passion of an angry mob to a positive end—bringing back UAB football, bowling, and rifle.
Alexander was an important team member of UAB football when the university shut down the three programs in 2014. Previous head football coach Garrick McGee added Alexander to the team in 2012 so he could work out with the team in order to help him realize his dream of walking and playing football again. McGee gave him his own jersey and locker and cut him no slack as Alexander lived the dream of playing again, doing push-ups during practice periods and leg lifts in the weight room. But the dream of playing again became his worst nightmare as Alexander live-tweeted UAB President Ray Watts’s meeting with the football team on Dec. 2, 2014, with his decision to close UAB football after 23 years.
Like all the other team members, Alexander was devastated. But he refused to give up, even though it appeared all hope was lost. Declaring that we would bring back football, bowling, and rifle, he organized protests, rallied students to record basketball game attendance, encouraged undergraduates to vote yes for the $25 fee to bring back the sports, and much more. “Tim is a born leader. People look up to him, revolve around him, and trust him to do the right thing,” says active group member Thanasis Nicolau. His message of hope soon reached beyond our group and beyond Birmingham. “Tim Alexander was integral in the return of UAB football,” says Bill Clark, head coach for UAB football. “He personally met with many city councils and county commissions to receive support for our program.” And ultimately, his contagious faith in motion won the day when Watts announced the reinstatement of the programs on June 1, 2015.
At age 27, Alexander has overcome multiple tragedies in his young life. In 2006, his home caught fire and displaced the family; his brother, David, died in a car accident; and Alexander was a passenger in another accident that left him paralyzed. He was a senior at Erwin High School at the time and was the eighth-ranked wide receiver/tight end high school football player in Alabama. Having played football since he was 5 years old, Alexander had NFL ambitions to help his family and so his mother could retire. Yet suddenly he was lying in University Hospital in Birmingham; he faced back surgery, hip surgery, and time in the ICU. Remarkably, Alexander was able to graduate with his high school class the following spring. But afterward, he took a year off from school because he was mentally unable to move on with his life. “I was suicidal and depressed,” he recalls. “My doctor told me that depression would kill me if I did not get my act together. He said I had too much going on to just be depressed and not live my life.”
Alexander took these words to heart and went back to school at Wallace State Community College, where he earned an associate degree. He worked for six months for an insurance company before praying for future guidance. “God spoke to me and said it’s time for you to go to school at UAB,” Alexander says. “I asked God to confirm it in a dream and that night I dreamed that I was a football player for UAB and was having prayer gatherings on campus showing people that Jesus is real.” And in 2016, this faith led Alexander to become an ordained minister at his church, New Birth Birmingham.
In December of 2015, Alexander graduated from UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences with an M.A. in communications management. And like all new college grads, he needs a job to make his way in life. While in grad school, Alexander’s housing and meals were covered by VOC Rehab. And as the recipient of UAB’s Samuel B. Barker Graduate Fellowship 2014–2015, his tuition and fees for grad school were earned. His most immediate need of a vehicle to drive to work came unexpectedly as a Christmas gift in 2015, thanks to Coach Clark and others who held a private fundraiser to surprise Alexander with a new truck custom fitted for Alexander’s needs. With a graduate degree and a vehicle, Alexander now has his heart set on working for UAB. And Clark believes that taking Alexander from a volunteer role to the payroll is a “no brainer.”
“Tim is a great ambassador for UAB football, the university, and the city of Birmingham,” Clark says. And although no official job offer has been made as of press time, Alexander is not waiting to get on UAB’s payroll to start working. He shows up every morning at 7:30 a.m. for the staff meeting and works 40+ hours a week in a role Clark describes as three hats: character, community, and career placement for no pay. “Tim is doing many great things with our team. He is teaching a character education class each week. He is also involved with our community service projects, which include Children’s Harbor. Tim is also UAB’s former football player liaison,” Clark says.
For his courageous leadership, Alexander became the recipient of the Greater Alabama Council BSA Youth Leadership Development Program’s Col. Leo Thorsness Courage Award in 2014. He is so honored by the award that he signs his emails, “Colonel Leo Thorsness Courage Award Recipient.” The admiration is mutual. “The Lord and Timothy are making a positive difference in Birmingham. All of us are better off because of Timothy,” Col. Leo Thorsness says. “I am the one who should be signing my email, ‘Leo Thorsness, Timothy Alexander, Example To All.’”
Leaders have aspirations that others believe are impossible. “Tim’s goal is to be able to walk out of the tunnel with the 2017 UAB football team,” says Natalie Walker, Alexander’s physical therapist. In addition to walking again and working for UAB, his aspirations include continuing his education in health administration and business, eventually earning a Ph.D. He also plans to continue his public speaking, become an author, and open rehab clinics for both mind and body. •
Robin Richeson Colter