Black caps stellar career with game-winner
Published: Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 9:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 9:06 p.m.
TAMPA — Fans wouldn't have cared. Neither would his teammates.
There's a chance his coaches would have even forgiven him seconds after, too, but Ahmad Black wasn't taking any chances as he crossed the goal line at the end of his game-sealing interception in Florida's 37-24 win over Penn State in Saturday's Outback Bowl.
Eighty yards from where he jumped a drag route by PSU's tight end, Black decided against a celebratory spike or tossing the ball into the stands. It crossed his mind, but immediately after he drifted back to a moment three years prior when Florida coach Urban Meyer threatened to end Black's Gator career if he ever again celebrated a touchdown alone.
As a sophomore, Black returned an interception for a score and was promptly flagged for making an "L" with his arms to symbolize his high school — Lakeland.
Meyer told Black he'd never play another down at Florida if he pulled that again. This time, Meyer joked he would have "punched Black square in the mouth" if he was penalized.
With 55 seconds left in the game — and both his and Meyer's Florida careers — Black still refrained from making a bigger scene.
"That's good discipline right there," Meyer said.
No, that's great discipline.
But it's to be expected from Black. Florida's senior safety ended his career as one of the greatest defensive backs in school history. It was only natural that he would be crowned MVP of the Outback Bowl after recording two interceptions for 129 yards, and leading Florida with six tackles and two pass breakups.
Meyer once said Black was too small and slow to compete, but now calls him the nation's best safety.
"Now, I can just focus on football, instead of being chewed out by Coach," Black said.
Black is fourth all-time at Florida in interceptions (13) and is first among active SEC players. But he wasn't always good.
A four-star recruit, Black felt entitled his first year. His work ethic and attitude were poor, he didn't take care of himself and expected to earn playing time by just stepping on the field.
Black was served a large dose of reality at his very first practice when Meyer made him leave the field and work alone in the locker room. Lakeland teammate and fellow senior Mike Pouncey said Black's immaturity was the cause for his treatment, but it also helped him realize he wasn't as good as he thought.
Now, he's even better.
"That man, he turned himself from a non-player to an All-American player," Pouncey said. "He makes a lot of plays for us and he deserves every bit of credit he gets."
Black showed why he's one of the team's best leaders and talents Saturday when he continuously put himself in spots to make plays. A couple of split seconds here and there and he might have had more interceptions to his name.
A thigh injury, broken helmet, and a bloody nose and mouth couldn't keep him from getting in on play after play.
However, missing one punt formation that almost resulted in a block temporarily put him in the doghouse.
"I almost cut him out of the will," Meyer joked. "He's back in it, so we're all right."
They are more than all right. They're friends now. With both walking away from Florida, Meyer said he embraces Black as one of his "best friends." Black made that move before the game when he decided Saturday was more about Meyer than him.
"It's been a long season, a rough season," Black said. "A lot of ups a lot of downs. I'm just glad we could send Coach out on top, the senior class out on top."
Black hopes his next destination is the NFL, but expects the criticism about his size and speed to return.
Black doesn't worry, he gets motivated and simply flashes his boyish, ear-to-ear smile as he expresses his feelings toward his future assessments.
"I guess I'm too small and too slow," he said.