Walking into the Spotlight

No one knew Johnny Lamar four years ago. Now, the Gators will rely on his skills as he returns to his hometown to start at cornerback....

Buried beneath the fan mail, a letter sent from Ft. Lauderdale rested in the office of Florida coach Ron Zook.

It came from Patricia Lamar's house. And at least for one day last week, Zook needed to look no further for his most avid admirer.

The note thanked the coach for all that he'd done; for all that he continues to do. After three years as a walk-on, Patricia's son, Johnny Lamar, was finally placed on scholarship as a Gator.

"It really makes you feel good when you can do something and they appreciate it," Zook said. "He appreciates the game. He plays for the love of the game."

Considering Lamar now starts at cornerback, maybe Zook should be thanking him. After all, the former Dillard High standout was among the most impressive of anyone on Florida's defense in the 65-3 win against San Jose State.

This all comes three years after Lamar went unnoticed by nearly every Division IA school in the country. But the 5-foot-10, 181-pound cornerback wouldn't settle for a smaller, more distant college. That's why he and his high school coach, Ken Scott, sent a tape to Florida's coaches.

"After that, I got to try out," Lamar said. "The coaches reviewed the tape and said I could be a part of the team."

Making an impact, though, would have to wait. Instead, Lamar says he spent days in classes and around campus as the football player no one knew.

Lamar recalls days when students would overhear him talking about practice.

"They'd ask me who I was," he said. "I'd tell them my name, and they'd just say, ‘you're name isn't even on the roster.'"

As a redshirt sophomore, Lamar saw action in all 12 games, including the Orange Bowl. He played 90 snaps and returned the next spring to earn the most improved player award.

Soon enough, it became clear he was on the path to a role as a key backup. But then Reynaldo Hill -- a faster, more highly hyped Fort Lauderdale native -- entered the picture with the potential play immediately.

It didn't happen. Hill struggled with a hip flexor, and Lamar was running with the first team in his place. Even after the true freshman returned to full strength, Lamar wasn't letting go.

"Everything he has ever gotten he's worked for," Scott said. "He worked his butt off for the starting position in high school, and he did it again this year. There might be guys with more talent, but no one works harder."

That may be exactly why Zook continues to praise Lamar. Both share the same work ethic and neither accepts anything they haven't earned.

"He's just kept his mouth shut and done what we've asked him to do," Zook said. "That's why I was so happy. Not only was I happy to be able to put him on scholarship, but I was happy that a guy can be so appreciative of it."

And even though Lamar may be a rare case of a walk-on turned starter, Zook will continue to use the Fort Lauderdale native as a reminder when he recruits future athletes.

"No. 1, it tells you recruiting is not an exact science," Zook said. "No. 2, it tells you that sometimes guys mature differently. Sometimes in high school, they're as good as they're going to get. Sometimes, though, they can still keep getting better."

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