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November 21, 2010Ahmad Black started his career at Florida on his knees begging for practice time and ended it on his knees in the South Endzone of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, thanking God for how far he's come in his four-year career.
Black was one of 23 players honored before UF's 48-10 win against Appalachian State on Senior Day, running out of the tunnel one by one to shake hands with Urban Meyer and be greeted on the field by their families.
For Black, the Gators' leading tackler this season, it was a time to remember all he has been through.
"I started off having to get Gatorades for my position group and just getting a rep in practice was like pulling teeth," Black said.
But Chuck Heater, who moved to safeties coach from cornerbacks at the same time Black did after his freshman season, and Meyer, who initially called Black too slow to play in the Southeastern Conference, stuck with him. An injury to Dorian Munroe cleared the way for Black to start at strong safety his sophomore season - a season that ended with Black's memorable interception of Sam Bradford in the 2008 BCS National Championship Game.
"I have never been around a football player who has made so much progress from Day 1 to four years later," Meyer said of Black. "If I had my draft pick of strong safeties, I'm taking Ahmad Black."
Black was once again always around the football against the Mountaineers and recovered a fumble in the second quarter forced by another senior, Brandon Hicks.
Hicks, Black and fellow seniors Justin Trattou, Brandon Antwine, Terron Sanders and Duke Lemmens started on defense for the Gators, while seniors Marcus Gilbert, Carl Johnson, Maurice Hurt, Mike Pouncey and Carl Moore started on offense.
Moore's Senior Day came to a disappointing end when he was thrown out following a fighting penalty early in the second quarter. The ejection may result in a suspension or partial suspension for this week's game against FSU depending on a ruling from the SEC league office.
Moore's frustration bubbling over was a display of anger that wasn't indicative of the mood of the rest of the veteran players.
Meyer said he's proud of the way his seniors have kept it together through a four-loss regular season.
"Disintegration of a senior class is what wrecks a team, and this team is not wrecked," Meyer said. "We're not really good in some areas. But it's certainly not a play-hard issue, an attitude issue or anything like that."
The class, and team, got to show how close they are in the fourth quarter with the game already out of hand for some time.
After a 20-yard run by Jordan Reed set the Gators up inside the Mountaineers' 5-yard line, Meyer gave an unsung senior the chance to make a lasting memory in his last game in The Swamp.
Senior defensive tackle Gary Beemer, a walk on, took three handoffs from Reed, punching in a touchdown from one yard out on third down.
"My last touchdown was never ago," said Beemer, an offensive lineman throughout his high school career.
Reed helped push Beemer into the endzone after giving him the handoff and the entire team celebrated with him.
"The chance, if I was a starter here, to score a touchdown as a defensive lineman is astronomical in itself," Beemer said. "For them to just come up to me with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter and say, 'Hey, would you like the ball on the goal line?' I'm still trying to process it and make it a reality."
The feel-good victory against ASU was the first step in ending a disappointing season on a high note for a decorated senior class that now sports a 42-10 record since 2007.
Pouncey, the last senior out of the tunnel, kept his helmet on as he ran out onto the field to shake hands with Meyer, swept up in the emotion of the day.
"I didn't want to show everybody I was crying," Pouncey said. "I gave my life to this program and it paid off today by getting a win out there. Out of any other win this one meant the most to me."