|Thursday, November 14
Records, rumors and Texas hospitality
By Chris Leak with Wayne Drehs
Special to ESPN.com
As I stepped to the line of scrimmage, I noticed the defense was in man-to-man coverage. That instant, I knew where I was going with the ball -- to receiver Dale Autry.
We had talked about this moment all week, all season for that matter. Everyone -- the linemen, the running backs, the receivers, even the defense -- had talked about the possibility of stamping our place into the national record books. And this was our chance to do it.
During the week, the receivers held a lottery to see who would catch touchdown No. 171 -- the most that any other high school quarterback had thrown. And Dale had won.
When I dropped back, I lofted the ball over Dale's outside shoulder on a fade route. The ball was up for grabs. It was a question of who wanted it more. Dale went up and snagged the ball away from the defender at the highest point of his jump. Touchdown.
After the game, everyone wanted to know how I felt. They wanted to talk about what I did. But that isn't how I see things. In my eyes, this is a team record. In the record books, it will say "Chris Leak, Independence High School," and for good reason.
It takes 22 people to win a football game. It takes 22 people to help a team score a touchdown. Without linemen, running backs, receivers -- even the guys on defense getting the ball back for us -- this never would have happened.
After the touchdown, the referee gave me the game ball and I went over and gave it to Coach Knotts. I told him, 'Thank you.' Because he gave me the opportunity. He kept the faith in me. He believed in me to go out there and have fun and lead his football team. Then I gave him a great big hug. I think he was pretty surprised.
Speaking of being surprised, a story in one of the Tennessee papers this week said the Vols have stopped recruiting me and Coach Fulmer has pulled his scholarship offer. But nothing could be further from the truth.
All schools pressure their top recruits to commit early. Tennessee has been no different. Coach Fulmer told my Dad that by waiting to make my decision, I've potentially been running off other quarterbacks who might be interested in Tennessee. So coach wanted to know, bottom line, if I still had interest in the Vols. The Vols have always been on my list.
Having said that, my Dad talked with Coach Fulmer and explained to him, just like we did at the beginning of this recruiting process, that we're not going to make any final decisions until I go on all my visits. Coach Fulmer told my Dad that he was hoping I'd commit to Tennessee and cancel my other visits. But I can't do that.
I want to go through the recruiting process and see what I come up with at the end. So Coach Fulmer asked that I come down for an unofficial visit as soon as possible. My Dad and I are going to head down to Knoxville for a fireside chat with Coach Fulmer sometime in the next couple of weeks. My scholarship offer is still on the table. I'm still interested in going to Tennessee. And the Vols tell me they're still interested in having me. So we'll just see what happens.
I arrived in Austin around 10 a.m. and was immediately ushered to the Texas-Baylor game. I had seats on the 50-yard line and the Longhorns dominated, 41-0.
I felt bad for Baylor head coach Kevin Steele. When he was the defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, he used to come watch my games. He's a great guy and it's disappointing that he got fired, but I'm sure things will workout for him.
After the game, I went into the Texas locker room and met Chris Simms. I was surprised when the first words that came out of his mouth were, "Hey Chris, How are you? How's C.J?" He and C.J. were the top two quarterbacks their senior year of high school, so it was great to see the quarterback fraternity still at work, with Chris curious about C.J.'s progress.
I ate dinner with Chris and Texas offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Greg Davis. When Davis and head coach Mack Brown were at North Carolina, my brother and I used to attend their football camps. And they heavily recruited C.J., so it was almost like a reunion of sorts.
The next morning, when I had breakfast with Coach Brown, I could see why he's such a great recruiter and why so many guys want to play for him. It isn't anything he does or any tricks he pulls. It's just that Texas hospitality. He's so down-to-earth; he makes you feel comfortable. He's a player's coach.
In other news, USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow surprised me two weeks ago when he flew all the way from Los Angeles to watch half of our game against Hopewell. NCAA rules prohibit coaches from contacting players while at their games, so he flew all that way just to watch. And wave.
I have to admit, it made me feel pretty special to know that somebody would fly all the way across the country just to see you play.
Last Friday, Florida State quarterbacks coach Daryl Dickey came to our game against Vance to watch me break the touchdown record. My official visit to Tallahassee is scheduled for next week.
There's one other memory from the past few weeks that I'm sure won't be forgotten anytime soon -- sleeping in the Cincinnati airport Sunday night on the way home from Austin. The vicious tornadoes that ripped through Ohio, Alabama and Tennessee grounded air travel on the East Coast so I was stuck on a cot in a chilly terminal, but was so exhausted that I actually slept pretty well.
I finally made it home at 12:30 Monday afternoon. It was Veterans' Day, so I didn't miss any school, but we had practice at 2:30. I literally walked in the house, dropped my bags, grabbed my gear and headed back out the door to school.
In four years, I hadn't missed a practice yet. And I wasn't going to start now.
Ask Chris Leak
Chris Leak: I've always said that if you can play, people are going to see that. I don't think size really matters. If you can make the plays that help your team win, that's what really counts. And I'm confident I'll be able to do that at the next level. When you look at the NFL, there are guys like Jeff Garcia, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb -- none of those guys are exceptionally tall. And I'm only 17 so I'm not even done growing yet.
Congrats on your high school success and doing so well, but I was also highly recruited and I play college football now. I still think to this day that I was lied to by the school I chose. How do you decipher between what is true and what is a lie?
Chris Leak: That just comes with following your heart. That's why you go to the school where you feel the most comfortable. You don't listen to the promises or the gimmicks, you follow your heart. Your heart tells you where to go. I guess I would best describe it by saying it's a feeling you get.
When you walk off the field for the last time in your high school football career, how do you want to be remembered? And what will you miss most when your high school career is over?
Chris Leak: I want to be remembered as a team player, a person that went out there, worked hard and had fun with his teammates. As for what I'll miss most, just that - being with my teammates, leading them down the field for a score. It's a real special feeling that won't be replaced with this group of guys.
What has Iowa done recently to cause you to start considering them and put them in your Top 5?
Chris Leak: Well, me and Brad Banks are very similar quarterbacks with very similar styles so to see him have that sort of success at Iowa makes me think I could do the same. Their offense really fits my style and is similar to what we run here at Independence. Iowa is a school I've always had some interest in. They offered me my junior year. But with all the success they've had this year, that really helps with recruiting.
First, I just wanna say congratulations on a great high school career, and I hope all goes well with your recruiting process. I was wondering what you like to do for fun, to get away from it all, all the hype, all the hoopla surrounding you?
Chris Leak: Video games. Video games, video games and more video games. That's what I do. My favorites are NCAA Football 2003, Madden 2003 and Grand Theft Auto. Not the new one, Vice City, but the old one. I'm trying to get Vice City now.
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.