|Thursday, December 12
Updated: December 26, 1:25 PM ET
Trust is key issue in dropping Tennessee
By Chris Leak with Wayne Drehs
Special to ESPN.com
Ever since I can remember, I always dreamed of playing for Tennessee. I pictured myself parading with my teammates through the Vol Walk and splitting the "T" like the hundreds of Vols before me.
But that dream is dead. I've dropped Tennessee from my list.
The reason is trust. Last spring, my brother C.J., fully recovered from his knee injury, became the strongest quarterback in UT history by setting the bench press record at 405 lbs. At the time, Coach Fulmer told C.J., as well as the rest of my family, that he wasn't surprised at C.J.'s progress, for he was the hardest working player he had ever coached.
But even after such praise, Coach Fulmer never gave C.J. the opportunity he promised him when he transferred to Tennessee -- a legitimate chance to start. Because of this and everything else that happened with my brother this past season, deep in my heart, I could never trust what the Tennessee coaches tell me. So I'm finished with the Vols.
I know some people will criticize my decision, but I have to do what's best for me. This wasn't easy. Tennessee was the place everyone thought I would go to. Tennessee was the place I thought I would go. But it just doesn't feel right. So I'm putting the Vols behind me and moving on.
In other news, I wasn't able to make it for my visit to the University of Iowa this past weekend. The ice storm here in Charlotte pushed back our semifinal playoff game from Friday to Saturday, making a visit impossible. But I'm desperately trying to reschedule.
As for football, we won the semifinal game, 29-0 over Butler and will play New Bern on Saturday afternoon in Raleigh for the state championship. If we win, it would be the third straight state title for my school and our 45th straight win. I couldn't think of a better ending to my high school career.
With regards to recruiting, I've decided that I'm not going to take any of the unofficial visits I once talked about to North Carolina State, South Carolina or LSU. My list is pretty much down to my Top 5. Next season, I'll be suiting up for one of those schools.
A family friend was joking with my Dad and I that if it comes down to Iowa and USC, we should just let them duke it out in the Orange Bowl and then I could sign with the winner. I got a kick out of that one. I do think it's pretty cool that two of the teams I'm considering are meeting in a big bowl game, though.
Two weeks ago, I visited Los Angeles for Southern Cal's game against Notre Dame and walked away totally impressed with the program.
Aside from all the great meals and impressive perks, the thing that stood out the most is how so many different USC players pulled me aside to explain to me what a joy it is to play for Coach Carroll. That really stuck with me.
The red carpet treatment wasn't bad, either, though. The school sent a private jet to pick me up in Charlotte. And just like my trip to Florida, I was the only passenger. The plane had a kitchen, a couch, leather seats and my own stewardess. Total luxury.
During the flight, I ate a full breakfast -- eggs, hash browns and sausage. There was a DVD player, too, so I watched two movies, "Spider Man" and "Enough" with Jennifer Lopez.
Now I'm too young to remember the '84 Olympics, but when we finally made it to L.A. and arrived at the Coliseum, the place had a very magical feel to it. It sort of reminded me of the Coliseum in Rome.
After the game, a 44-13 USC victory, Coach Carroll talked to his players about how far they've come. They sang the fight song, hugged each other. Everybody went crazy. It seemed like a real tight group of guys.
After the game, there was a barbecue for the recruits right outside the stadium. Man, I thought the people at Florida State fed me well? USC was incredible. The barbecue was this massive buffet of anything barbecue you could imagine.
Afterwards, I went with my host, junior wide receiver Keary Colbert, to an off-campus apartment, where a bunch of players and recruits were hanging out. We sat around and played PS2 all night. Cary beat me in Madden, because I've never played before. I was all mixed up with my controllers. But he wouldn't play me in NCAA. He knew better. Carson Palmer, who I hung with at the Elite 11 camp this past summer, warned him about my abilities in NCAA 2003.
The next morning, we had brunch at this place called Beaches. It was right on the beach. Yet another great meal. And I couldn't believe how early people were out there surfing and sunbathing on a Sunday morning.
After watching film and spending some time with the coaches and academics advisors at the athletics center, we went back to the Coliseum, where the USC staff put the names of each recruit on the giant scoreboard.
QB #12 Chris Leak
It was the first time I ever had seen something that. It was quite a treat.
Later, we went to the Fox Sports Café inside the Staples Center for appetizers. I chomped down on chicken fingers, shrimp and those little mini sandwiches. For dinner, we went to Papadakis Taverna, this Greek place owned by some former USC player. They gave us this big old steak and I couldn't even eat half of it after all those shrimp.
During and after dinner, there was live entertainment -- yet another first. We watched a tap dancer and then some sort of hula or belly dancer. I'm not sure what it was, something with a grass skirt and fast-moving hips.
After dinner, Coach Norm Chow drove me to the airport for the flight home. Because of the four-hour time difference, as soon as the plane landed, I headed for school.
Overall, the visit to USC was great. Though I visited California for Elite 11, this was my first time in L.A. And I have to be honest: It was my best visit. I saw the Staples Center, the Hollywood sign, Beverly Hills and the neighborhood where Shaq lives.
Add to that the positive things that so many had to say about Coach Carroll and Coach Chow, as well as the fact that Coach Chow has flown twice from California to visit me in Charlotte and I must say, USC is quickly becoming a very inviting option.
Ask Chris Leak
Chris Leak: Well, it certainly opened a lot of doors and got my attention. Every team goes to the BCS with three quarterbacks and the fact that they lost one of them means there's a chance you could step in and compete for the job. So yes, it certainly opened my eyes.
Chris, in NCAA Football 2003 by EA Sports, I created you as a prospect for 2003. I couldn't believe it. I signed you, my team was USC. You stepped right in as a true freshman and with your leadership, I won the NCAA title. Man that No. 12 Leak USC jersey looked good! How did the victory over ND affect your opinion on their program, being there live and all? And have you ever created yourself in the video game? Where did you go? Thanks and good luck with whatever decision you make!
Chris Leak: More than anything else, the victory over Notre Dame influenced me the most in that I was able to finally see the USC offense first hand. And they run the exact same stuff we do. I mean the exact same stuff. It's wide smack open. I was sitting there thinking, "That's what we run. That's what we run!" As for the game, I never have created myself because whenever anybody does that, they juice themselves up too much. And I don't want to do that. So I just recruit my own players through the course of the game and go from there. But I often wonder: Where do they get all those names?
Chris, with the prolific season Carson Palmer has had at USC, there are some rumors that Norm Chow might be in line for a head coaching position. How much would that effect your decision and how closely will you pay attention to any postseason job shuffling?
Chris Leak: Well, Norm Chow is a fantastic coach. Somebody of his ability is always going to be on the list for head coaching jobs in college or the pros. But you really just have to play it by ear. In one respect, they've been successful with what they're running that even if he left, I think they'd run the same thing. On the flip side, it's his mind and his ability to call the right plays that would be nearly impossible to replace. Bottom line, I really don't know what I'd do. But it is something I'm certainly keeping an eye on.
Enjoy reading your weekly diaries. I was wondering, we've heard a lot about athletics, but what about academics? Seeing as to how school is so important to you, how much are you evaluating a school's academic program? What do you plan on studying? And lastly, given the fragile nature of the sport, have you given any thought as to what you might want to do after football or in case of a career-ending injury?
Chris Leak: Well, on official visits, you always sit down with the academic advisors, go over possible schedules, and talk about the requirements and curriculum. They show us the computer rooms, the classrooms, the lecture halls, everything. It's really one of the first things you do on a visit when you get there. And that's how I evaluate. As for my major, I'm still undecided. And in regards to life after football, I don't know. When you're young, I guess you don't worry about those things. For now, I'm just having fun.
Chris, I am very impressed with your poise and maturity in dealing with this life-altering situation. As an alumna of Texas, I have watched Chris Simms become plagued with negative, hurtful comments, solely blaming him for the teams' failures. You can see this quarterback plague at Florida with Grossman and Miami with Dorsey and MANY other schools. How do you become prepared for this inevitable situation? Especially with all the expectations your signing will bring?
Chris Leak: That's just the life of the quarterback. It's like that in the pros, in high school, sometimes even in Pee-Wee. At any level, the quarterback gets blamed for everything when you lose and praised for everything when you win. That's just being a quarterback. You just have to handle it. It's something that, over the years, I think you learn to handle. And all your previous experiences will determine how 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.