|Sunday, January 5
Florida's wide-open attack passes Leak's test
By Wayne Drehs
Special to ESPN.com
SAN ANTONIO -- Chris Leak walked into the Alamo Dome on Sunday night arguably the top high school quarterback in the nation.
He walked out a Florida Gator.
During halftime of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Leak orally committed to the Gators and second-year head coach Ron Zook. The announcement ended months of speculation, during which Leak, the national touchdowns record holder, was one of the mostly highly sought-after recruits in the country.
"My decision really came down to a matter of trust," Leak said. "Coach Zook made a commitment to me and my future so I'm going to trust him with that future."
Now, Chris will play for Tennessee's bitter SEC rival, not to mention against his brother, who has two years of eligibility remaining.
"Honestly, it's something I haven't even thought about," Chris said of facing the Vols. "I'm just excited about getting to Florida and doing everything I can to help my team win a national championship."
In 2002, Leak completed 321-of-556 passes for 5,000 yards and 61 touchdowns while leading Charlotte's Independence High to its third straight state championship. Saturday night, he was awarded the Ken Hall High School Player of the Year trophy, previously known as the high school Heisman.
Leak's father, Curtis, said the decision came down to Florida, Florida State or Iowa. Each school Fed-Exed the family its ideal plan for how they would use Chris if he signed with that school. Based largely on those plans, as well as Florida's wide-open offense and its relatively close proximity to Charlotte, Chris chose the Gators.
"When Chris got the final letter from Iowa this week, he realized he has a better deal at Florida," Curtis Leak said. "They are all great schools. And every one of the coaches proved to be outstanding, trustworthy individuals. But it's really simple -- when you look at those three schools, who throws the ball the most?"
Florida led the SEC in passing offense this past year, averaging 266.3 yards per game, while Florida State was in the middle of the ACC (216 yards per game) and Iowa the middle of the Big Ten (210.8 yards per game).
"He can thrive in that offense. It's made for somebody like Chris," Curtis Leak said.
Chris Leak said that Florida quarterback Rex Grossman's announcement on Saturday that he would forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft had no effect on his decision. If anything, he would have preferred to play with Grossman for a year in order to pickup the nuances of the offense.
"He's made all the throws, all the plays. It would have been great to be under him," Leak said. "Now it opens things up a little more. It gives me more of an opportunity to play earlier in my career. Maybe an opportunity to start."
Leak's commitment is a major catch for Zook, who has faced the unenviable task of replacing Steve Spurrier since arriving in Gainesville a year ago. After losing to Michigan in the Outback Bowl, Florida finished the season 8-5, its worst record since 1989.
But the commitment of Leak should re-energize any downtrodden Florida fans. And with nearly a month to go until signing day, the Gator coaches are sure to use Leak's commitment as a major selling point in any last-minute recruiting pitches.
Leak used Sunday's nationally televised commitment speech to do a little recruiting of his own, calling on, "the best players in the country to join him at Florida and win a national championship."
The buzz here this week has been just that.
"There are a couple top players that have come up to me this week and told me wherever I go, they want to come with me," Leak said. "And that's an honor. That's how you build national championships."
Binding letters of intent cannot be signed until Feb. 5, meaning Leak could technically still change his mind until then. But that is doubtful. The current plans are for Leak to enroll at Florida during the summer and join his new teammates for off-season conditioning.
"I've got a lot of work ahead of me," Leak said. "But you can never start preparing for that next level too early. I have to learn the nuances of the offense, the speed of the game. It will be quite a challenge."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
ESPN.com is following quarterback Chris Leak on his journey from high school to the college ranks. Leak is writing a diary about his recruitment, and there will be weekly updates on the recruiting process through Signing Day on Feb. 5, 2003. Later this week, look for Leak's latest diary installment and a more in-depth look at why he chose the Gators.