GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – He came here expecting it to be easy. He quickly learned that there was nothing easy about it. As senior safety Ahmad Black prepares to play his final game in the Swamp on Saturday, he is doing so knowing he put in the work necessary to maximize his potential in a Gators uniform.
If there is any doubt, take a look at UF’s tackling leaders. Black has 93 tackles in 10 games, 33 more than any other Gator. Black was never more active than in Saturday’s loss against South Carolina, recording a career-high 16 stops.
Some of those tackles came when the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Black threw his body fearlessly into the path of 220-pound Gamecocks bulldozer Marcus Lattimore, who carried a school-record 40 times. At least twice in the first half Black kept Lattimore from breaking off a long run when the two met in the secondary.
The Black on the field Saturday was nothing like the one who showed up at UF in the summer of 2007 fresh off 45 consecutive wins at Lakeland High.
“I came in like the ordinary freshman expecting to do the same things I did in high school without even trying hard,’’ Black said Tuesday. “I had to come in here and try to beat guys out and I didn’t.’’
When Black struggled to make an immediate impact, he clashed at times with teammates and Chuck Heater, his position coach. In the summer of 2008, Black showed up at the football offices one day and learned he was being moved from cornerback to safety.
The move turned out to be a career saver.
Black started all 14 games as a sophomore, leading the nation with seven interceptions and helping the Gators win their second national title in three seasons. He followed that up with a stellar junior season, finishing second on the team with 70 tackles.
In his final season, Black appears on a mission to play at the next level. Since arriving at UF, Black has been told he was too slow to play cornerback. He’s also been compared unfavorably to fellow safety Will Hill, a junior who is bigger and more athletic.
All the while, Black has continued to improve by sticking to an intense work ethic wrapped inside a fun-loving attitude toward life. It’s nothing unusual to see Black walking around campus joking with classmates or standing in line at Burger King asking his Twitter followers what he should order.
But Black has made the biggest impression on the field.
“I had to go out and show people that size isn’t everything,’’ Black said. “I just go out there and prove my doubters wrong.’’
His former teammate at Lakeland High, senior center Mike Pouncey, respects his friend for making a transformation that many young players are unable to handle.
“He’s been our defensive leader all year,’’ Pouncey said. “He has just turned himself into a great player and it’s going to pay off for him. Ahmad came in with the wrong attitude and he changed it around.
“It’s tough for people transitioning from high school to college. I think he let the noise or hype or whatever, get into his head. When he turned it around, he turned it around in a good way.’’
Black started off his senior season in a big way with 12 tackles and a 40-yard interception return against Miami (Ohio). In the second game of the season, Black picked off two passes in UF’s victory over USF. He has gotten better as his career winds down, averaging more than 11 tackles a game over the past five games.
“He’s got the biggest heart, probably as big as anybody I’ve ever seen,’’ senior linebacker Brandon Hicks said. “He is what a true leader is. Somebody who goes out there and doesn’t care what anybody has to say about him. He goes out there and plays every play like is his last. He is a guy I’m glad to have around.’’
So is Florida coach Urban Meyer. But it wasn’t always like that.
Black was a difficult talent to manage at first, and Meyer and his staff challenged him to buy into the system. Slowly, Black bought in and became the type of player they expected when they recruited him.
“Great, great player -- arguably one of the most mature players we’ve had around here,’’ Meyer said. “To say that about that young man, that just gives great credit to him and his family, because he was not [like] that. We did not recruit that and inherit that. That’s been developed with he and Coach Heater attached at the hip.
“He’s one of the best I’ve ever been around as far as a football player and a leader.’’
Black’s wide grin is never far away, even during the Gators’ recent losing streak. He’s known as one of the team’s jokesters, and one of his favorite targets on Twitter has been true freshman quarterback Trey Burton.
His message to Burton and all young players: “The note to the young guys is to come in and work hard.’’
If they do, they have a chance to go out the way Black is regardless of the beginning.
“I regret nothing about this whole ride,’’ he said. “I’m having a lot of fun. This is probably one of the more fun years that I’ve had here.
“I’ve met some great people; I’ve met some great players. I’m just enjoying it. I’m just living the moment. I know everything is coming to an end. Hopefully we can pull out these last few games.’’