Despite four long, difficult seasons, Joshua Birmingham said it's hard to believe Saturday marks the end of his college football career.
“It's gone quicker than I thought it would,” said the University of Central Oklahoma running back. “I haven't anticipated this at all.”
The four-year starter never enjoyed a winning season as the Bronchos struggled through a transition of going from the tough Lone Star Conference to the even-tougher Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association. In fact, Birmingham has never played for a UCO team that won more than two games in a season, although the Bronchos have a chance to finish 3-7 in 2013 with a triumph Saturday afternoon against Northeastern State in Tahlequah.
Still, the Luther product will go down as one of the finest running backs in UCO's otherwise distinguished football history. Birmingham needs 199 yards in his final game to become the Division II school's all-time rusher. Steve Tate, another former Luther standout, tops the list with 4,360 yards over the 1977-80 seasons. Birmingham has 4,162.
“I have a chance, but it would take a lot of effort,” Birmingham said.
Birmingham signed with Wyoming out of high school but transferred to Central Oklahoma with hopes of playing with his brother, Ben Birmingham. Joshua wound up redshirting freshman year, and then he started a climb through many of UCO's all-time charts. During his debut in August 2010 against powerful Pittsburg State (Kan.), Birmingham ran for 111 yards and had 63 yards and a touchdown receiving.
And he just kept getting better, often running behind an offensive line peppered with injuries and inexperience.
“My time here has been outstanding, even with the seasons we've had,” Birmingham said. “I absolutely have no regrets coming here, and I'm proud to be part of the Broncho tradition. It's just a bittersweet moment for me knowing it's about to end.”
Birmingham said the next chapter focuses on the NFL. The 5-foot-9, 205-pounder wants to give pro ball a shot, whether he becomes the 19th player in UCO history to get drafted or he signs as a free agent. Birmingham has talked to a few scouts who want him to participate in a pro day.
“It's been my life dream to play in the NFL,” he said. “People from my hometown would say I was too small to do something like that. It bothered me, so I used it as motivation and now I'm closer than ever.”
*Southwestern State tight end Ryan Corbin is a Tony Gonzalez guy. Corbin said his game resembles that of the Atlanta Falcons star. “He can do it all,” Corbin said. “Catch passes, block ... I can block, too, although I prefer to catch the ball.” The numbers support the latter — the 6-4, 250-pound senior out of Newcastle leads Southwestern receivers in catches (67), yards (809) and touchdowns (6).
*Northwestern teammates Javari Liggins and Jarion Tudman tied a Great American Conference single-game record, each running for four touchdowns during last week's 62-17 rout of Southern Nazarene.
*East Central wideout Caleb Holley has four consecutive 100-yard receiving games. The senior had 125 yards and three TDs during last week's 52-30 loss at Harding (Ark.). Holley needs just 24 yards during Saturday's 2 p.m. game at Southeastern to break the school record for most yards in a single season. The record is 930, set in 2011 by Chris Barnes.
“I'm just doing what I'm supposed to do,” Holley said. “Work hard.”
Holley has been quite the success story since high school, where he had to send out DVDs to get the attention of recruiters. After all, not many think of his native Alaska as a football hotbed.
“I had to make my own tape and send it out to Division I, Division II — we tried everything,” said Holley, who ended up at San Francisco City College for two seasons of juco ball before transferring to East Central.
The self-sale out of East Anchorage High School not only worked, but almost four years later, Holley is talking professional football. He said scouts from the Rams, Redskins, Giants, Packers and Raiders have been in contact.
“I'm like every other player, you want to play in the NFL,” Holley said. “If it's God's will, that's what I want to do. We'll just have to see what happens.”
*If Central Oklahoma defeats Northeastern State on Saturday, it will be the 600th win in program history. UCO is currently 599-374-46, only trailing Pittsburg State (670), Tuskegee, Ala. (649) and Hillsdale, Mich. (607) for most victories in small-school football.
ODDS AND ENDS
*The Oklahoma Baptist men and Oklahoma City U. women received at-large bids to the NAIA Cross Country Championships, scheduled Nov. 23 at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, Kan. The OBU women and OCU men earned automatic bids by winning respective Sooner Athletic Conference Championships team titles.
*Aminata Fall of Southern Nazarene failed to win Great American Conference Women's Basketball Player of the Week honors despite a wow performance in the Crimson Storm's opener. Fall had 17 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and five blocks during a 76-57 victory over York (Neb.). The 6-foot-4 center is only a junior.
*The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma qualified for the NAIA Men's Soccer Championships by defeating St. Gregory's 2-0 Thursday in the Sooner Athletic Conference Tournament in Chickasha. The No. 17-ranked Drovers, who will play in their fifth consecutive national tournament, had goals from Perry Sansford and Liam Madden. USAO junior goaltender, Bryan Byars, improved to 15-4. He set a school record for most wins (46) in a career.