Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Century complex bears Pleasant's name

Retired professional football player Anthony Pleasant, right, talks with one of the coaches from his childhood, Bobby Johnson and his wife, Sharon, as the Johnsons and dozens of other people came out Saturday evening in Century to honor Pleasant with a park named in his honor. Anthony grew up playing football in the Century area and went on to play professional ball with the Cleveland Brown, Atlanta Falcons, NY Jets, San Francisco 49ers and finished his career earning two Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots.

Two-time Super Bowl champion returns to Northwest Florida to receive honor from hometown

July 18, 2011

By Jamie Secola

Amid the celebration, Anthony Pleasant took a moment Saturday night to gaze at the youth football field that had just been dedicated in his honor in his hometown of Century.

The football field at Century Park, which encompasses 22 acres, had just been renamed the Anthony Pleasant Sports Complex. About 75 coaches, city officials, family members and friends gathered at the small field to celebrate Pleasant, a Century High graduate and defensive line coach for the Kansas City Chiefs, who played in the NFL for 14 seasons and earned two Super Bowl rings.

Glancing at the field’s bright green manicured grass, Pleasant remembered what it was like to grow up playing sports in the tiny nook that is Century, which has a population of about 1,800.

“I never imagined that I would be playing for 14 seasons in the National Football League,” Pleasant said. “The average career is about three or four years. Those first three years, you can’t control what happens to you. So because of the hard work that I had instilled in me as a kid — that strong foundation — that helped carry me to the next level and to be able to play for 14 years.”

But there isn’t much left from the old days — the days when Pleasant was at the center of an athletic community and led the Century Blackcats to the 1986 North Florida championship. That’s just one of the many reasons Pleasant said he was grateful to have the park named after him, serving as a small reminder of his youth before Century High closed in the 1990s.

“I just wish that the high school and middle school and the grade school were still here because, you know, the kids are still here,” Pleasant said, holding back emotion. “But now, they’re scattered all over the place at different schools. I just wish we still had all of that going on, because of all that history and all the tradition of Blackcat pride, is gone.”

But Pleasant is an astounding reminder of those days.

Around him, some children were waiting to get his autograph. His old coaches also were waiting for the chance to reminisce.

“I think it’s a real tribute,” said Joe Cardwell, who was the head coach at Century during Pleasant’s high school career. “I think this is a real tribute to the city and the old days of Century High School. I think he represents that era extremely well.”

After playing college ball at Tennessee State, Pleasant was taken by the Cleveland Browns in the third round of the 1990 NFL Draft as the No. 73 overall pick. He played for the Browns for five years and went on to play for Baltimore (1996), Atlanta (1997), New York Jets (1998-99), San Francisco (2000) and New England (2001-03), where he won two Super Bowl championships in the 2001 and 2003 seasons.

“It was really exciting,” Tawana Barnett, Pleasant’s younger sister, remembered about her brother playing in the NFL. “It was really exciting because we come from such a small town with our mom (Betty Pleasant) raising us by herself, struggling without my dad. It makes me very proud that Anthony went on and made a success story out of his life.”

Betty Pleasant, who died in 1996, went to all of her son’s football, basketball and baseball games, Barnett said. Coaches remembered her as the driving force behind Anthony’s success.

“I think of his mama, Betty, because I got to know her pretty well when I was coaching Anthony in high school,” Cardwell said. “If there is one thing I regret, it’s that she wasn’t here. But somehow, I feel like she can see this from upstairs. She’s a great lady. She’s the one who gave him the character, and the Good Lord gave him the athletic skills. That combination worked out really well for him.”

Another combination that worked well for Pleasant was Century’s tight-knit community. That showed on Pleasant’s face after he was awarded a plaque from Century Mayor Freddie McCall.

“I really enjoyed just coming out here and looking around and seeing my name out there (on a banner at the park’s entrance) and that all these people came out to support me,” Pleasant said. “A lot of them I haven’t seen in years. When you come back here after being gone for so long, it still seems like you never lost communication (with the people). You come back and see your friends, and you just pick up right where you left off, like no time has passed at all.”

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