|Thursday, January 9
Updated: January 11, 6:53 PM ET
It's great to be a Florida Gator
By Chris Leak with Wayne Drehs
Special to ESPN.com
I said from the beginning, when it came time to make my college decision, I'd follow my heart. So last Thursday, as I sat in my San Antonio hotel room with my Dad, papers scattered across the bed, I listened to what my heart told me.
Then I told my Dad.
"This is it," I said. "I want to be a Gator."
He smiled, knowing it was the best situation for me. We had heard for a couple weeks that Rex Grossman was leaving and, to be honest, I had hoped he would stay, so I could learn from him.
His decision wasn't a factor. I wanted to play for Ron Zook. He took a lot of criticism his first year, but I love the guy. I love his excitement. As my decision day neared, he sent me a detailed outline of what his plans were for me at Florida. It included when he thought I'd be ready to contribute and what he'd do to get me prepared for that day.
I never asked for the letter, but he sent it. When he did, I asked two other schools -- Iowa and Florida State -- to do the same. I didn't ask Texas, because I knew the situation there -- they have Vincent Young. And I didn't ask USC because I didn't think I wanted to be that far from home, not to mention I wasn't sure if Norm Chow was going to stay at USC for my entire career.
But with Iowa and Florida State, there were some uncertainties, so I asked what their plans were for me. I got the final letter from Iowa last week. And when I laid the three of them in front of me, it was clear that my heart was right -- Florida is the place for me.
Unfortunately, that doesn't mean the recruiting process is over. In the beginning, somebody told me that once you verbally commit, that's when recruiting really starts -- that's when the other schools know who the enemy is.
But I'm here to tell you: I'm a Gator. Coaches can call, coaches can talk, but unless they're offering congratulations, I don't plan on listening. We unplugged the answering machine on my private recruiting line and my Dad's cell phone is no longer receiving voice mail.
Not to say coaches aren't trying. I had one coach call my Dad's hotel room the night I announced my decision, trying to get me to change my mind. It didn't happen. It's not going to happen.
I'm a Gator.
The excitement in his voice made me smile. He told me it was great to have me and he can't wait to get things rolling next year.
My Dad helped me with my speech and coach Zook especially liked the part where I asked the nation's best high school players to join me in my quest to bring another national championship to Florida.
After the announcement, I had a couple guys come up to me and basically tell me that they were now going to give the Gators a look because I was going there. I told them it'd be great to have you. I explained that coach Zook is somebody that will take care of them and is a coach you can trust.
You can believe I'm going to keep a little friend list nearby, just to say Hi to these guys as decision time hits over the next month.
When I returned to school on Tuesday, everybody -- students, teachers, and administrators -- stopped me to offer congratulations. The teachers told me how proud they were. The kids were excited, too. A lot of them, though, were like, "Awe, man, you should have chosen my school." It was pretty funny.
The week in San Antonio was a blast. Some of the kids complained that the curfews were too early and there wasn't enough free time, but I enjoyed myself. I'm a homebody so every night, I went back to my hotel room each night to watch the college football games on ESPN Classic.
I was real happy our team played as well as it did. Our coaches spent a lot of time during the week getting us comfortable with one another and teaching us the system. So to go out and dominate a game like that, 47-3, was great. They coaches worked real hard and it was great to reward them.
It was also great to reward my family. The reason I work so hard and do what I do is to make them proud of me. That's what drives me. So to win the game on Sunday night, on national television and earn MVP honors, not to mention win the Ken Hall Player of the Year award on Saturday, made for an incredible weekend.
The MVP trophy was a heavy one -- I bet it weighed 40 pounds. After the game, I walked over and handed it to my family in the stands.
The work, though, is far from over. There's no time to kick back on the couch, put my feet up and soak everything in. There's no time to think how good I am. That's when things go downhill. That's when you get a big head. So I just try to keep myself on the right track.
That means more running. More lifting. And more game film.
The work never stops.
Ask Chris Leak
Chris Leak: Basically, my goal is to help my team win the national title -- however many we can get. After my four years, maybe it's possible to get four. Who knows? As for personal goals, most of the time the guy who wins the Heisman is on a team that is doing real well. So if we achieve the goals above, maybe I could win a Heisman. That'd be a great thing. As for whether or not I'm going to redshirt, probably not. At this point, it looks like I'm probably going to go in and help my team as soon as possible.
First just wanted to say good luck with everything at Florida -- hope it works out. Second I'm a "Die-Hard" Trojan fan and was wondering was USC one of the final two or three leading up to the All-Star Game? What made you not choose Southern Cal after the great visit you had? And what advice would you give to a kid who has hopes of being a top prospect one day?
Chris Leak: Oh yeah, most definitely USC was there. It was a great school and hands down, my visit to Los Angeles was the highlight of this whole recruiting process. The reason I didn't choose USC was because it was a little far from home and I wasn't sure if Norm Chow was going to be around for all four years. As for advice to be a top prospect, I would just say keep working hard and take your time in the process. If you work hard, stay focused and do the right things, good things are going to happen.
All I can say is thanks for coming to UF! I am a Gators fan! My question is how do you feel about Ron Zook with all the controversy over him coaching and many fans wanting him to be fired. Do you like his coaching style?
Chris Leak: Oh yeah, he's an awesome coach. His enthusiasm for the game is contagious. He loves the game so much. And the players, they love to play for him. You get that sense when you're there. He's really an outstanding, great, awesome coach. He had the third-best rookie season for a coach in Florida history. As for the critics, you really can't think about them. You just have to keep working hard and helping your team out. And if you win football games, it all goes away.
I am ecstatic to hear that you are coming to play for the Gator Nation. What do you feel will be the hardest adjustment on the field and off in the upcoming year?
Chris Leak: It's just, you know, a new area, getting acquainted with a new home and everything. That's just going to come with time. There's no rush for it. As for on the field, it will be a challenge to adjust to the speed of the game, the different coverages you'll see. Having said that, it's still football.
The All-American game was a taste of that. All the guys in that game are ready to play now. So it was faster than a normal high school game, but not yet quite college speed.
Send in your questions and Chris will answer a few in his next diary.
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.