Ahmad's Squad — Black has developed into a leader for UF
Published: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 6:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 6:47 p.m.
His college football career started off with his head coach telling him he was too slow to play in the SEC. Four years later, his Gator career is ending with a downer of a four-loss season.
But in between the humbling start and the painful finish, a lot of really good and memorable stuff has happened to Ahmad Black.
"I regret nothing about this whole ride," said the Florida senior strong safety from Lakeland. "I enjoyed everything about it.
I met some great people, some great players. I'm just enjoying it. I'm just living the moment.
"I'm having a lot of fun. It's probably the most fun year I've had here. It's sad that it's coming to an end."
Black will run out of tunnel in The Swamp for the last time Saturday, one of 23 Gators who will be celebrated on Senior Day.
Black admits it will be an emotional moment.
"I might wear some sunglasses out there (to hide the tears)," he said.
In terms of wins and losses, this is not the way Black envisioned his senior season playing out. The Gators have lost four games, including three in a row at home, and are coming off a crushing 36-14 loss to South Carolina that knocked UF out of the SEC Championship Game.
But from an individual standpoint, this has been Black's season in Gainesville. Even better than his true sophomore season, when he tied for the nation's lead in interceptions with seven, culminating with that memorable fourth-quarter pick against Sam Bradford and Oklahoma in the national title game.
There is really no debate among the UF players and coaches: Black has been the Gators' best defensive player this season.
Black leads the team in tackles with 93 (that's 33 more than the second-leading tackler, linebacker Jelani Jenkins), leads the team in tackles for loss, is tied for the team lead in interceptions with three, has recorded one sack, two pass break-ups, one fumble recovery and three forced fumbles.
And he's a captain and THE leader of the defense.
"Great, great player," UF coach Urban Meyer said. "Arguably one of the most mature players we've had around here, and to say that about that young man, that just gives great credit for him and his family. He's one of the best I've ever been around as far as a football player and a leader.
"He's a dynamic football player, and he was not (when he got here). Sometimes you get a gifted guy. I'd put (safety) Will Hill in the gifted category. (Black) is a guy who has developed into the best. I think he's the best strong safety in college football."
Meyer was calling Black something else shortly after he arrived on campus in 2007.
Obviously, Black has changed Meyer's opinion — and the opinion of many others who have questioned his size (5-foot-9, 189 pounds) and speed over the course of a productive three-year starting career for the Gators.
"I had to go out and show people that size isn't everything," Black said. "I go out there and try to prove my doubters wrong."
The Gators recruited Black as a cornerback. But the coaches considered his speed as an issue, and he was moved to strong safety after his freshman season, a year in which he distinguished himself on special teams.
"The coaches came in one day and said, 'You're moving to safety,' " Black said. "I guess I sucked so bad at corner. I think they wanted to put me like holding for field goals, too."
Black admits that when he first got to UF, his attitude may have been his biggest flaw.
"I came in like an ordinary freshman expecting to do some things like I did in high school and not even trying hard," he said. "That's definitely not the case. I had to come in here and beat guys out, and I didn't. This is a note to the young guys (on the team now): Come in here and work hard. Hard work pays off."
Black said he bought in and changed his attitude before the start of the national championship season in 2008.
"That's when it sunk in, when I learned I probably was going to start," he said. "I knew I had to get serious about what I was doing."
Black has been a serious player — and serious team leader — ever since.
"He has the biggest heart I've ever seen," senior linebacker Brandon Hicks said. "He's what a true leader is. He's going to go out and play every play like it's his last. He's a player I'm glad to be around."
Saturday's game will be Black's 37th career start — and final one in The Swamp.
He's having a big senior season, but the four losses have had a tempering effect.
It's not over yet, though.
"The thing that would make me most proud is to finish (with wins over Appalachian State and Florida State)," Black said. "Coach (Meyer) says people were throwing darts at us early in the season, then we got everybody back (with wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt), and now they're throwing darts at us again.
"I just want to make sure everyone finishes, and we just have a fun time."
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.