|Thursday, October 31
Searching for a sense of belonging
By Chris Leak with Wayne Drehs
Special to ESPN.com
I knew the Gators were sending a private jet -- at least that's what my Dad had told me. But not until it pulled up, not until the blue and orange six-seater with "Florida Gators" on the side touched down did it hit me.
This was my first official visit. And The University of Florida was rolling out the red carpet.
I was the only passenger on the plane. I felt like a rock star. It was just me and the two pilots. They took my bags, showed me the cockpit, everything. And that thing flew. We made it to Gainesville in like an hour and a half.
That flight was one the highlights of an incredible two weeks in which the recruiting process has kicked into a whole new gear.
In high school physics, they teach us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Well, ever since my brother was benched against Georgia two weeks ago, the reaction on my end has been that the phone hasn't stopped ringing. It seems like every coach at every major program in the country is coming out swinging, trying to get me to attend their school.
Each night, the phone rings eight or nine different times, with somebody else telling me that C.J. got a raw deal, they would never do that to a player, and their school is the place for me. It's been crazy. Now I know why my Dad put in the recruiting phone line a few weeks ago.
Yet it doesn't bother me. I know these coaches are just doing their job. They heard that things have changed between me and Tennessee and the door may be more open than it was. They are testing the waters. I'm wowed by their persistence.
Because of the added attention, one new team has crawled into my Top 5 this week -- Southern California. Another, Iowa, is right on the verge. Though nothing is scheduled, I plan on taking official visits to both schools.
With Tennessee, I'm basically in a wait and see situation. They're still my No. 1 team with a tiny lead over the pack, but I'm playing it safe. I want to see how things shake down with my brother. The coaching staff told him he'll get his chance and that anything can happen in these last five games. We'll just have to wait and see.
As for the rest of my visit to Gainesville, it was impressive. After arriving at the team hotel, I was directed to my own private suite. I dropped my bags off, went down to the lobby and the entire Florida coaching staff was waiting to say hello. I hadn't seen much of Coach Zook or offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher in person since summer camp, so it was good to see them again.
After that, Rex Grossman came into the lobby looking for me. They must have told him I'd be around. After chatting for a few minutes, he and I went into a film room to watch tapes of that night's opponent, Auburn. We clicked real well, just talking and talking about football. He was a great guy to hang around and really helped me understand what the program is like for a quarterback.
After a tour of campus, I rode on the team bus right next to Coach Z (Zaunbrecher) for the quick trip to the stadium.
The game was one of the most exciting I've ever witnessed in person. Rex threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Taylor Jacobs to win the game in overtime. The coolest part was that the touchdown came against a defensive formation that Rex and I had studied on tape. As the play developed, I saw exactly where Rex was going to throw it.
After the game, I went in the locker room and congratulated Rex on the game. A couple reporters said it was one of the greatest throws he's ever made. Some of the players wanted me to go out and celebrate with them, but all I really wanted to do was head back to my hotel room and watch Notre Dame. It wasn't anything against the guys, but going out isn't real important to me and the Notre Dame - Air Force game was a big time contest that I really wanted to see. So I went back to the hotel.
On Sunday, after breakfast with Z and Z, they told me I was good enough to play as a true freshman. And that it would be up to me if I wanted to redshirt. It made me feel great for somebody like the head coach at Florida to tell you that.
After breakfast, Coach Zook took me back to the stadium and the locker room. He walked me in there and took me to Rex's locker. There, in the locker besides Rex's was a nameplate with my name on it. Even sweeter was the blue No. 12 Florida jersey in the locker with "Leak" on the back in big white letters.
I had goosebumps. I wanted to touch it, feel it. I wanted to put it on so bad, but didn't. Coach told me, "This could be you." I just sat back and looked at it in total awe.
After breaking down the film of the Auburn game with Coach Zook, he drove me back to the airport, where the jet was waiting to take me back to Charlotte. Coach wished me luck and told me he'd keep in touch.
I walked away wowed by my weekend seriously considering the possibilities of becoming a Gator. The bottom line: Florida is going to be a tough visit to beat. It wasn't necessarily anything that they did, it was just the way I felt and the way I was treated. I had a true sense of belonging.
And as I've said from the beginning, that's the feeling that will matter most when it comes time for me to make a decision: the feeling that I belong.
Ask Chris Leak
Chris Leak: Loud. Both of them. Boy it gets loud. I was talking to Rex (Grossman) and he said he thinks Florida gets louder than Tennessee. When he was in "The Swamp" for the first play of the Tennessee game his freshman year, he told me it was like, 'Holy crap. I didn't know this place could get this loud.' Both of them are awesome schools with awesome fan support. That's why they are such big rivals. But I can't pick which one is louder. Florida's stadium is built different, like a bowl. And all that sound just sits in that bowl. Tennessee is more people, but the stadium is spread more. I can't tell which is louder. My ears were throbbing after both games.
Chris, I have been following your diary and have been impressed with the thoughtful manner that you have approached the whole recruiting process. I was surprised to read in your latest entry that you are now considering Texas, given the fact that Vincent Young is there. How much does the current depth at QB play in your decision process? Good luck with your season and with finding the right school.
Chris Leak: Well, there's going to be competition anywhere you go. There isn't a school with a vacant quarterback position. But I've always believed that competition only makes you better. Texas has a great offense, it fits my style and I really like their coaching staff. All these things will come into play when I make my decision. But I don't think you can be worried about who is there before you or who is coming in. Competition is what makes you a better player, that's how I see it.
Do you think you can surpass Ben Mauk who holds the national record for passing as of last week? Do you talk to him at all? Know anything about him? His records?
Chris Leak: Really all I know about him is his records. I don't know him personally. I heard about him this summer and man, he's doing a great job putting up some big numbers. I just try to use that as motivation to go out and work harder, play harder and put up some big numbers for my team. As for what's going to happen, all I can do is go out and put up the best numbers I can, help my team win and at the end of the season. We'll see what happens.
I was a running back at North Carolina State University and then went on to play three years with the San Diego Chargers. I was wondering, with the success of the Pack this year and the fact that Phillip Rivers is probably not going to be coming back for his senior year, would you ever consider giving State a look? How serious are you considering them? I know they were on your Top 5 at one point.
Chris Leak: I'm planning on taking an unofficial visit there, so yes, it's one of the schools I'm considering. It's another wide-open offense like mine in high school. Phillip has put up some big numbers there and I know T.A. (McClendon). He's having a heck of a freshman season. That is real good, solid program that I'm going to consider as well.
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.