For most people, there’s no place like home. For Ahmad Black, there’s no place to launch a new chapter like home.
Black, the former legendary Gator safety, has been hired by UF as what he terms a “coaching assistant,” effective immediately. In addition to coaching, he will also be returning to the classroom to pursue his degree in Family, Youth and Community Sciences.
“I’m just so excited I can’t even describe it,” Black told me. “The SEC. The Florida Gators. The Swamp. It’s just an amazing feeling. I just couldn’t imagine a better next step for me to take in life.”
It’s funny how some steps in life can bring you back to where you started.
Almost ten years ago today, Black was an unrated, 5’10, 170 pound recruit who stepped onto what would someday be known as Steve Spurrier Florida Field for the first time in a Gator uniform. He played sparingly as a freshman, but rose to prominence in his sophomore season in 2008 by picking off seven passes, the last of which set up the Gators’ national championship clinching drive that Tim Tebow capped with his famous jump pass. His stats went down in his junior season- probably because few dared to test him- but perhaps even more telling was the simple fact that he was the starting safety on what finished the 2009 season as the second ranked pass defense in the country.
The Gators struggled offensively in 2010, but Black was again the catalyst for a defensive unit that finished second in the country with 22 picks for the season, of which he had five. For a curtain call, Black clinched the Gators’ Outback Bowl win over Penn State with an 80 yard pick six to send coach Urban Meyer- and himself- out with a bang.
Not bad for a kid who was always labeled as too small and too slow, or a kid that Meyer once referred to as a “recruiting mistake.” And yet the stats he accumulated and the memories he left fans pale in comparison to the impact he left on his teammates.
“Ahmad was one of the best I’ve ever played with,” former teammate Justin Trattou told me. “He just had phenomenal instincts.”
Now, Black will bring those instincts to a loaded coaching staff that already boasts a ton of experience. He knows the expectations of the Gator football team better than anybody, having helped guide the program to the highest summit it has ever reached. He also understands what it’s like to be counted out, ignored, overlooked and flat out disrespected- you know, the treatment the 2017 Gator team is getting in the preseason- before stepping onto the field and proving the critics wrong.
Perhaps that’s what makes Ahmad such an ideal addition to this football program. Sure, he’s familiar with and has a deep passion for the school, and you’ll be hard pressed to find somebody who knows X’s and O’s better than him. But it’s the way he can relate to the players, as a player’s coach, that should serve him best.
I asked Ahmad what he thought the biggest challenge was going to be in this new role, and his response was simple. “I’m gonna want to get out there and start hitting people, but I need to realize that these kids suiting up aren’t me, that some do things differently, are built differently and have different strengths,” he replied. “And then coach them accordingly.”
But Black already has some experience combatting that. Multiple former teammates at Florida, younger and older alike, labeled him as a coach on the field. Ahmad has given pointers to a wide array of legendary Gator defensive backs, from Tony Joiner to Joe Haden to Matt Elam. Each of them were different types of players, of course, but all share the common denominator of Black’s wisdom paying off in spades for them.
A new crop of Gators now awaits Black’s guidance. There’s not much experience in the backfield other than Duke Dawson, but there is an overflow of potential between Brad Stewart, Marco Wilson, Chauncey Gardner and CJ Henderson. And along with DB coach Corey Bell, they’re in Ahmad’s hands now.
“These young players,” Trattou told me, “are lucky to have Ahmad as a coach.”