TAMPA — Long before drafting him in the fifth round Saturday, the Bucs got their first look at Florida safety Ahmad Black when his youth league football team was recognized by the Glazer family at midfield of Raymond James Stadium in the late 1990s.
One of the main reasons Black was a Bucs fans growing up in Lakeland was his aunt, Sabrina Valdez-Collins, who spent six seasons as a Bucs cheerleader (1988-93) and has worked with the squad since.
"He's always been a football fan, but he was a big Bucs fan by me being a cheerleader," said Valdez-Collins, who got her nephew a field pass for his sixth birthday in 1995, allowing him to meet the likes of Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn.
Now Black can return to Tampa and play at Raymond James Stadium, where he finished his Florida career with an MVP performance in the Outback Bowl win that included an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown. He's excited to stay close to home, but after being drafted much later than he hoped, he would have been happy no matter which team took him.
"It got so far, I just wanted to be taken by anybody," he said. "I just want to play football. The five rounds was a long time for me."
Black, small for a safety at 5 feet 9 and 184 pounds, said he thought he fell in part because of "measurables" — he ran 40 yards in 4.70 seconds at a campus workout, slow for a defensive back, especially a small one.
But his production as a senior at Florida was solid: 108 tackles, including 11 for loss, with five interceptions. During the Gators' national championship run in 2008, he had seven interceptions, including one in the title game against Oklahoma.
Both Bucs general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris were struck by the enthusiasm Black had when they told him they were drafting him.
"Ahmad Black should be a popular player within our Buccaneer family and certainly in the Tampa community," Dominik said. "He's a captain. He's a productive player, a great kid off the field, on the field. He's always produced, has always been able to battle above some of the limitations people have thought he had. For him to be there in the fifth round, that's a guy we want to bring onto this football team."
His aunt, who watched the draft with him Saturday, will attend next weekend when the Bucs have their final callbacks for the cheerleading squad. She said having her nephew stay close to his family is something else to be excited about.
"I live in Riverview, so he said he was excited because I can cook for him every day," she said. "I told him, 'Sorry, but I don't cook every day.' "