Leonard George '69 etched his name into Jesuit High School lore as one of the school's first African-American students and for leading the Tigers to the program's only football State Championship in 1968.
However, he is also a University of Florida legend, for being a trailblazer for countless UF football players and Southeastern Conference athletes to follow.
George was the first Black football player to sign a scholarship with the Gators on December 17, 1968. He and UF teammate Willie Jackson Sr., who signed with the Gators just three days later, ushered in a new era for UF football program. On September 26, 1970, George became the first Black player to score a Gators touchdown, a 1-yard score at Alabama (also making him the first Black player to score a TD in Tuscaloosa, Ala.).
George's extraordinary story came full-circle as he was honored throughout September 4 weekend by the University of Florida.
This included special recognition on the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium prior to Florida's season-opening game against Florida Atlantic. George and Jackson together served as the "Honorary Mr. Two Bits," leading the home fans in the Gators' traditional pre-game cheer. With "2-Bits" signs in hand and whistles between their lips, they commanded the attention and voices of some 86,000 in attendance at The Swamp.
Other notable "Honorary Mr. Two Bits" have included Heisman Trophy winners Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel and Olympic gold-medal swimmer Caeleb Dressel.
Not only were George and Jackson honored on the field, but the day before the game, UF revealed a mural immortalizing the two inside the football stadium. It features old photos of the duo, dubbing them "Barrier Breakers."
"It was amazing to realize after all this time – 51 years – to realize that we made a difference," George said. "But it's also important to remember the people before us, the other Black students before us, that also made it possible for me and Willie to do what we did."
George and Jackson also were recognized during a special dinner at Spurrier's Gridiron Grill restaurant on Friday night. George was joined by many Jesuit classmates throughout the weekend, including Kent Corral '69 and Ray Kearney '69.
"It was so important to see all these people that I hadn't seen in a long time," George said. "To be able to share this with them was probably the most special moment."
Before Saturday's contest, George and Jackson enjoyed a special tailgate bordering the Gator Walk adjacent to the stadium, where they also spent time with Jesuit principal and UF alumnus Mike Scicchitano '01 and Martha Minahan, wife of legendary Jesuit head coach Bill Minahan. Minahan had coached George at Jesuit, and he encouraged George to be the first African-American to sign to play football at Florida.
UF also announced the Leonard George and Willie Jackson Sr. Scholarship Endowment. The scholarship fund was set up in 2020 by four African-American players who followed George and Jackson to UF: Jimmy DuBose, John Williams, Melvin Flournoy, and Wayne Fields. Their idea for the endowment came from wanting to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the two trailblazers' first games as Gators in 1970, and it funds UF football scholarships that extend the legacy left by George and Jackson.
An onslaught of former/current Gators coaches and athletes were eager to meet and get their picture with George and Jackson, including Spurrier, Urban Meyer, UF basketball head coach Mike White, and several former UF players.
For George, the cherry on top of his celebratory weekend was seeing fellow Jesuit alum Malik Davis '17 playing for the Gators. Davis scored a TD in the Gators' win that night while rushing for more than 100 yards and thriving in the same running back position as George did five decades prior.
"To see him out there on the field, one of the Jesuit's own, having such a great game, I'll tell you, that was special too," George said.
For photos from George's celebratory weekend at UF, go to the Facebook page Jesuit High School of Tampa, or click here.
For a special video of George's celebratory weekend, go to the Facebook page Florida Gators Football or click here.
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