Q&A with John Leake

CUTigers.com caught up with linebacker John Leake Sunday afternoon at the 2003 ACC Kickoff at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Georgia. In this exclusive interview, Leake talks about new coach David Blackwell, his expectations for the upcoming season, his 4.43 time in the 40, and a whole host of other topics. A must read for Clemson fans!

LB John Leake
6-1, 240, 4.43
Plano East High School
Plano, Texas

Senior LB John Leake

Talk about your senior year, and finishing up strong. Obviously, you want to have a good season, but are you also thinking too about getting to the NFL?
Leake: It's a big deal. Your senior year, you want to go out with a bang. You want to win the ACC Championship, you want to win the National Championship, and those things should be within our reach. You look at some of the schools that haven't been ranked that high at the start of the year...teams like Ohio State from a year ago...no one expected them to win the National Title. It can be done. I just want to be the best player I can, and being a great leader. After that, if things go my way (like getting to the NFL), then they go my way.

Talk a little bit about Coach Blackwell and what his addition has meant to the staff this offseason.
Leake: Well Coach Blackwell is a heckuva coach. I've had him since the beginning of spring. Honestly, he reminds me a lot of Coach Herring in that he really has the emotion that you like to see. I've really learned a lot from him since the start of spring. I'm a different player now, and I'm just looking forward to showing that. Our whole group of linebackers are ready...we are going to be the leaders of the defense. I'm also taking things personally now. If something isn't done right, I'm taking responsibility for it. Coach Blackwell really has been a great addition here.

Clemson fans are anxious to see what the linebackers can do this season, can you talk about LeRoy Hill and Anthony Waters, and what we could expect from those guys this year?
Leake: Anthony Waters is only a redshirt freshman, and he's about 6-3 235 pounds and there really isn't anybody that works harder. He's been with me all summer long and he's been looking to me to answer questions and stuff like that. In my mind, he's a starter even though he's backing me up. LeRoy Hill is starting now. When you think about him the first thing that comes to your mind is speed. He's so fast to the ball. He really stepped it up this spring, and won the spot, so we have all the faith in the world in him. In our mind, we should be the best linebacker unit in the ACC.

Does it bother you when people talk about all of these programs like Maryland, N.C. State, and Virginia passing you in the ACC?
Leake: Well, you like it because that makes you the underdog. You just go in there and try to prove people wrong. To me, there's not a greater feeling then proving people wrong. It doesn't bother me at all. We had a 7-6 season last year, what do you expect? We've felt like that we've only been a step away the last few seasons. A play here, a play there and we win 9 or 10 games last year. The flipside is also true. So we realize it's a game of inches...we aren't that far away. At the same time it can also be frustrating...you want to be one of those teams to compete for the ACC Championship.

What would a win over Georgia really mean to this team? Would that be the game could really put you guys "over the hump?"
Leake: Yeah, winning that game would be a huge confidence booster. They will be in the top 10 coming in, if were to win, you'd have to figure that could put us on track to get into the top 25. We believe that we can win that game, and once we do, that will give us even more confidence the rest of the year.

One of the perceptions about this team the last few years is that it hasn't been all that tough, does that offend you?
Leake: When you go 7-6, anybody has the right to say anything. Until you go 12-0, or 13-0 how can you say you are tough? Going undefeated is tough in my mind. Tough- you can use that word in so many ways, but if you are tough, you are going to win the National Championship. People can say what they want to say, I agree with them. We aren't tough enough until we start winning.

How does this team get "tougher?" What do you guys have to do?
Leake: Well, for starters, everybody has to be on the same page. Everybody has to be one and play as a team. Since the bowl game when we got annihilated- that's been in the back of our heads all summer long. We've got to give 110% every play and go hard every play. We've got to get better and win games and what better way to start out against Georgia. We feel like we could have won that game last year and this year we've got them at home and we feel like we can win. That first game is a must win. Every game is a must win.

Are you terrified about what could happen to this team if you guys were to lose that game?
Leake: No. I'm not really thinking about that to be honest. Whatever happens, happens, and we'll deal with it. We've got some great leaders on this team. I'm a great leader, and I'm going to prove it. I want people look to me make plays, and I'm going to be that guy. But I'm not thinking about us losing at all.

What are your thoughts on ACC Expansion?
Leake: I like it. I definitely feel like it makes the league stronger, and whatever does that- I'm all for it. The conference is getting a lot of exposure now, and that's good. It's great to have Miami and Virginia Tech in the ACC now; it just makes the conference stronger.

Take me back to that play against Greg Jones last year where he basically broke the back of the team right before halftime on that long run. Has the play really served as motivation for you this offseason?
Leake: Last year, plays like that I would run to players, and not use my hips to tackle. When Coach Blackwell came in, I really learned how to tackle. I mean, of course I knew how to tackle, but Coach Blackwell really taught me how to use my hips. Last year, I would just leave my feet, and not use that force that can really put knock people down. Against Greg Jones, I was just trying to push him out of bounds, which was a mistake. He's one of the best running backs in the nation. That was a frustrating play, and I missed other tackles last year. I may have had 169 tackles, but I could have had about 200. You know, I've put on 15-20 pounds (now weighs 240) this year, and I'm still the same speed at 4.43.

Do you ever get the feeling that Clemson fans expect too much out of Clemson football?
Leake: We expect to win championships. We expect to go to BCS bowls. Our fans have high expectations, and we love that. Sometimes, it can be a little difficult, but I like it. We need to have them behind us. It doesn't bother me that they have high expectations, because we have expectations as well.

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