Black Ends Gator Career with a Bang

There was a time in Urban Meyer's coaching career where he would have overlooked Ahmad Black as a recruit. The reports of Black being too short and too slow are well documented. Meyer used to look past those players, too. However, his decision to recruit Black helped the head coach end his career with a victory Saturday at the Outback Bowl.

It would have been tough to script a better ending. The Florida defense looked like it was going to crumble late in the game like it had other points during the season. With a six-point lead, Penn State got the ball with 3:04 remaining in the game. The Nittany Lions went 54 yards in six plays, using whatever facet of the offense they wanted to move the ball.

That's when Ahmad Black did what he's used to doing. He made a play that changed the game. It not only changed it, his play ended it.

Penn State put the tight end in motion to Black's side, where the safety was on him in man coverage. The tight end ran a drag route to the sideline and Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin threw off balance because of pressure. Black stepped in front, got a block from defensive tackle Jaye Howard and he raced towards a moment he will never forget.

The 80-yard interception return gave the Gators a 37-24 lead and clinched him as the Outback Bowl MVP.

"It was a relief," Black said of his emotion when he crossed the goal line. "We were up about a touchdown before I got the interception, and they were driving down the field. I was thinking that we needed a stop."

Instead of just getting a stop, Black decided to score.

After the touchdown, Black told Meyer on the sideline that he thought about celebrating. The game was a two-possession contest at that point, so a celebration penalty wouldn't have hurt the Gators with only 55 seconds remaining on the clock. Black's mind immediately jumped to his sophomore season.

He had an interception return for a touchdown during the 2008 season. Black, now a favorite player of Meyer's, was only a sophomore then and admittedly less mature, but he made an "L" sign with his arms, the signature move of players who went to Lakeland High School. He received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty soon after that.

As he raced towards the end zone on Saturday, Black remembered the lecture he got from Meyer when he was a sophomore.

"He said as he was crossing the line he was going to spike the ball or throw it into the stands, but he remembered what I said three years ago," Meyer said with a smirk. "That's good discipline, Ahmad."

The interception and career full of highlights at Florida wouldn't have happened without a change in Meyer's recruiting philosophy. As a coach who prides himself on having teams with speed, Meyer used to get caught up in measurables and 40-yard dash times.

If he only looked at those, the Gators wouldn't have ever offered Black. They might not have even heard of him.

"I was incorrect for a while," Meyer said. "I used to look at measurables before anything else. I used to look at the 40-yard dash. I still do, but there are some other areas I look at just as strong, if not stronger."

Meyer's recruiting philosophy took a quick change. The first thing he evaluates is the player's on-field ability and his intangibles. The measurables come last.

Black will now head into the NFL Draft where he expects the story to be the same. He won't get pegged with an early draft pick because pro teams will think he is too small and too slow.

If Saturday's performance, and the Black's entire career for that matter, is any indication, some team will get a steal. No matter what numbers Black put up during his career, he's always heard the same theme.

"I guess I'm still too small and too slow," Black said with patented ear-to-ear smile.

Someday, people will learn.

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