RECRUITING: Football Takes Edge Off For Black

The days at Lakeland High School tend to be pretty boring for Ahmad Black lately and they’re going to get even more boring by the end of this week when he turns in the paperwork for his final two classes so he can graduate in December. Fortunately, he’s got football to occupy his time and keep him from becoming a total couch potato before he enters the University of Florida in January.

Football does take the edge off of boring days. Take last weekend, for example. When the Dreadnaughts visited Cincinnati to play nationally ranked and defending state champion St. Xavier in the Kirk Herbstreit Challenge, it could have been and probably should have been the typical Lakeland blowout, but a few mistakes made it a closer game than anyone expected. By the time the Dreadnaughts had pulled out a 25-22 overtime win thanks to a 42-yard field goal that hit the crossbar and bounced over and a last-play interception by teammate Steve Wilks, Black’s heart was pounding away.

“Now that was exciting,” said Black, a 5-10, 175-pound cornerback that committed to the Gators back in the summer. “We won and it showed a lot of character for us to come from behind like we did and then win it in overtime, but really, it shouldn’t have been a close game. If you add up all the mistakes that we made, it’s a 21-point lead in the first half. We got in the red zone and we didn’t punch it in like we should have and we had some other mistakes. Coach (Bill) Castle was talking about that today. We’ve got to finish when we get down there.”

Finishing the job for the Dreadnaughts means a third straight 15-0 season, a third straight state championship and a second straight USAToday national championship. They’ve won 34 straight games, four this year, and they’ve got six more regular season games to go including this Friday night’s Homecoming game with Miami Dr. Krop before the state playoffs begin.

Three of the four Lakeland wins have been in typical blowout fashion but the St. Xavier game served as a wakeup call just in case the Dreadnaughts were already dreaming up the design of those championship rings.

“We haven’t even come close to playing to the best of our ability yet,” said Black. “We’ve been killing teams and that tells you how much talent we have, but we haven’t even come close to a complete game where everybody plays great yet. We haven’t really played Dreadnaught football where the defense is swarming and the offense is completely unstoppable yet. We’ve gotten close and we’re getting there, but we aren’t there yet. We have a lot of hard work to do to get there.

“A close game like we had is probably what we needed. It let everybody know that if we aren’t ready and if we don’t work hard that somebody can beat us. Anybody can get beat if you let the other team outwork you.”

Black is known for his work ethic. The Lakeland team is packed with seniors that have been there, done and set the example for the team’s underclassmen but if you had to pinpoint the one player that truly sets the bar at its highest level and then pushes everyone else to elevate their game, it’s Ahmad Black.

That’s why he got the scholarship offer from the Gators when he lit things up at Florida’s football camp back in June. Coach Urban Meyer discovered that not only can Black play the game, but he’s a supreme leader as well. He’s one of those kids that when he speaks, everybody stops what they are doing and they listen.

He’s the total package, too. As a cover corner it’s rare that anyone catches the ball on him. As a tackler, when he hits people they go down. As a kick returner, he’s got that burst of speed that allows him to chew up yards quickly.

“Nobody really throws my way anymore but I do have three interceptions and I’ve run one of them back for a touchdown,” said Black. “I had one against St. X Saturday.

“Paul Wilson (wide receiver, Florida commitment) and me were talking today. Nobody throws my way and we’re running so good on offense that we hardly throw the ball so he doesn’t have many catches. We just have to do what we can when we get the chance.”

Black may not get many chances for a pick, but he is proving to be a deadly tackler. Going into the St. Xavier game, he ranked third in competitive Polk County in tackles and was just two off the lead.

He’s still bugged a little bit by the game with St. Xavier. The Dreadnaughts played the game on artificial turf wearing their regular football cleats while St. Xavier had a big advantage because the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium is their home field so they had turf shoes.

“It was pretty tough to keep your feet under you,” said Black. “I slipped down for no reason a couple of times. Chris Rainey slipped down a bunch. He probably would have had a lot more yards if he could have played in the turf shoes.

“But, it was a win in a very hostile environment. We only had a couple of thousand fans there and I don’t know how many they had but it was a lot. We were outnumbered by thousands and we came away with a win against the number one team in Ohio. That game showed what kind of character we had. With all the mistakes we made and we didn’t have turf shoes and the environment, we never argued or fought. We never got down on ourselves. We knew we would find a way to win and we did. It was a great feeling to win, but everybody on our team knows we didn’t play the best we could.”

Black is one of six Dreadnaughts heading to Gainesville. Michael Pouncey, Maurkice Pouncey and Wilson will be starting their University of Florida football careers in January. Chris Rainey and Steve Wilks will be coming in the summer.

“They have to finish up their foreign language and that’s a full-year course or else they’d be there with us,” said Black. “All our guys are making good grades. I’ve never seen Rainey bust it in class like he has this year.”

And then there is the matter of teammate John Brown, one of the top rated defensive tackles in the nation. He hasn’t made a commitment to any school yet, but Black is confident that he’ll be joining his buddies at Florida.

“It’s going to be really tough on him to say no to his six best buddies because all of us are really talking to him about going to Florida with us,” he said. “He knows all of us want him at Florida with us and in the end, I’m pretty sure that’s where he will go. Family’s real important to him and all of us are like a family. If he comes to Florida with D-Lo (D’Angelo McCray) and Torrey Davis and Jerry Howard and those other guys it would be a crazy defensive line. I think he knows that.”

Against St. Xavier, Black says that Brown played like a man possessed.

“He got double-teamed and triple teamed every play and he still had two and half sacks and six hurries,” said Black. “He didn’t have one play the whole game where it was one-on-one.”

With all his school work done by the end of this week, Black will spend more and more time getting himself ready for each football game. The seniors on this Lakeland team don’t want to end their high school careers with a loss. Only a state championship and a third straight perfect season will satisfy them.

“We’ve come this far so we can’t stop now,” said Black. “We know what we have to do to finish things up the right way and we’re all going to do everything we can to make sure we reach our goal. That would be the best way to do things — win a state championship and go out undefeated and then start my college career at Florida in January.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.