The Jesuit graduate overcame “hostile” road games, violence to become Univ. Florida’s first black player

A documentary featuring the University of Florida’s first black football player premieres Tuesday night at the Tampa Theater.

“Leonard George and the Tigers” features George, who graduated from Jesuit High School in 1969.

“It was so hostile,” he said of road games as a teenager. “I’ve been called so many names.”

He was one of two black players on the Jesuit High School team.

“We had Jews, we had blacks, we had Catholics. And [opponents] said they didn’t want any of them [to play]”, he said. “They actually started hitting me. I had to try to defend myself.”

Leonard George wearing #23 while at Jesuit High School

The film, directed by Drew Marquardt, lasts 70 minutes and, he hopes, will mark his life.

“At 17, you just want to be part of the team,” Marquardt said in an interview on Monday. “I must say that I was part of this team. Even today, we are very close.”

When Leonard George graduated as a Jesuit in 1969 and joined the University of Florida team, that’s when he took on legendary status from his young teammate, Bob Morrison.

“This country and this city were going through very difficult times, and there was a real question of what was going to be our future if you were black in America and black in Tampa,” George said.

Today’s Jesuit administrators are grateful that this story is being told, 50 years later.

“Athletics can bring people together,” said Jesuit development director Nick Suszynski. “[Athletics] create a form of unity that transcends race, transcends rate, transcends religion.”

George also moved into the end zones, becoming the first black player to score a touchdown at the University of Alabama.

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He has become a lawyer, and from Tuesday his story will continue in a new way.

“[It is] a good example of what the civil rights movement was. It was about equality and teamwork. In Jesuits, that’s exactly what happened,” he said.

Tuesday night at the Tampa Theater, Leonard George and the film’s director will be on hand to answer questions after the film, which begins at 7:30 p.m.

For more information, visit https://tampatheatre.org/movie/leonard-george-and-the-tigers/

To see a trailer for the film, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiy63GhkuJk.

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