The Lakeland Dreadnaughts had just held the Manatee Hurricanes on third down last Friday night in the state class 5A semifinals at Bryant Stadium and Ahmad Black needed a break. He had played every play on defense and special teams up to that point. Feeling a bit gassed, he signaled to the sideline for his backup punt returner, Paul Wilson, to take his place.
“I was really tired … I hadn’t been out a single play on defense and I had played every play on special teams so I was really blowing,” said Black, a 5-10, 175-pound corner who is committed to the Florida Gators. “Paul is my backup and I wouldn’t want anyone but him to be in there. He caught the ball, made a couple of moves and then he took it to the house. He’s like Chris Rainey. Once he gets in the open I don’t think there is anybody that can catch him. There’s fast and then there’s Rainey and Paul kind of fast.”
Wilson went 80 yards with that punt return, part of a great evening for Lakeland’s six Florida commitments. Black had an interception and he ran a fumble in for a touchdown. Steve Wilks had a couple of devastating hits including one that helped spring Black for the touchdown. Michael Pouncey and Maurkice Pouncey spent the night opening gaping holes in the line for Rainey, who carried 21 times for 326 yards and three touchdowns.
“It was a great night for the Gators,” said Black, rated four stars by Scout.com. “It got better Saturday night when the Gators beat Arkansas and then it got better Sunday when the Gators got picked to play Ohio State. It’s a great time to be a Gator.”
Black and Wilson will be early enrollees at Florida in January and the two friends since their days of pee wee football in Lakeland will be roommates.
“I really love hanging around with that guy,” said Black. “Him … Steve Wilks … Rainey … the Pounceys. These guys are like my brothers and we’re going to be at Florida together and we’re going to win championships together.”
Winning championships is nothing new for Lakeland’s “Gatornaughts.” Friday night when they face St. Thomas Aquinas at Dolphins Stadium in Miami, Lakeland will be gunning for its 45th straight win and its third straight state 5A championship. Lakeland was last year’s USAToday national champ and at least one major high school poll has Lakeland scheduled to repeat as the nation’s best if they beat Aquinas.
Ironically, the past two state championships for Lakeland have come at the expense of Aquinas so Black is well aware that there is a revenge factor that the Dreadnaughts will have to deal with.
“We know how bad they want to beat us,” said Black. “We ruined their dream season two straight years and now they want to ruin ours. We have to play our game and we can’t let anything distract us.”
While he was talking about avoiding distractions, he got a text message on his cell phone from his good friend Earl Everett. Everett, whose father lives across the street from Black in Lakeland, made All-SEC first team linebacker Monday. His message was simple and to the point.
“It said ‘Stay focused’ and it’s a good reminder,” said Black. “He just got an SEC championship and he’s going to be playing for a national championship. I talked to Brandon Spikes [Florida freshman linebacker] and he reminded me that we’re playing for our national championship Friday night and the Gators are playing for the national championship against Ohio State. He told me to just stay focused on winning and play hard.”
Black has seven interceptions this season. He’s taken three to the house. He’s also scored on a couple of fumble returns and several punt returns. He and Wilks anchor the Lakeland secondary that will face an Aquinas team that throws the ball very well.
“We can’t let them catch the ball,” said Black. “If they do catch it we have to make sure they pay. We’ve got to hit them hard if they’re going to try to catch the ball on us.”
After the Aquinas game, there are only a few more days of school. In January, Black will be starting all over again as a freshman at Florida. Spikes, Everett and some other Gators have told him what he can expect in the pre-spring practice mat drills, a time for toughening up and readying for an intense 15 days of on the field practice.
“I’ll be ready for that,” he said. “We do mat drills at Lakeland although I know they’re not as intense as the ones we’ll be doing at Florida. Coming in early will be good for us. Because we’re there we’ll go through mat drills and then we’ll have spring practice. We’ll be ahead of the freshmen that wait until August.”
His goal for the spring semester?
“Just do the best I can to get ready to play for Coach Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators,” he said. “I’m going to do the best I can to learn everything they can teach me and get ready to play football in the fall. Coach Meyer plays his freshmen who are ready. I’m going to come to Gainesville and I’m going to get ready.”
Meanwhile there is one more game left in his high school career and one game remaining for the Florida Gators. Ironically, both games will decide national championships. If Lakeland wins against Aquinas it will be the second straight national championship for the Dreadnaughts. If the Gators beat Ohio State on January 8, it will be Florida’s first national championship since 1996.
“I didn’t think it would happen for the Gators when they lost to Auburn,” said Black. “They hung in there and they never got down on themselves. Now they can win it all and we can win it all in the same year. That’s pretty good stuff.”