Thursday Report

Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong will return to South Carolina for the first time as a coach since leaving the Gamecocks' staff last season....

Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong likely will become a head coach at some point in his career. Considering his name already consistently pops up as a candidate for just about every collegiate coaching vacancy, that much seems obvious.

But forget about his future. This week, Strong's past will give him enough to deal with.

The assistant will return to South Carolina on Saturday to coach for the first time since leaving the Gamecocks' staff where he worked as the defensive coordinator. Strong admits it will be difficult to keep his emotions in tact.

"The toughest part is going to be standing on the visitor's sidelines and looking across the field to those players I coached," Strong said. "No one ever knew me until I went to South Carolina. It's like a second home to me."

Considering how much success Strong's defense has seen at Florida, the Gamecocks may be just as sad to know what they lost. The Gators rank 17th in the nation as a scoring defense, allowing 17.4 points per game.

Under Strong, Florida's secondary has recorded 19 interceptions compared to seven picks at this point last year without him. But his skills won't be his only edge Saturday.

"Charlie is a great concern," South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said. "When a guy leaves your program as an assistant coach, he knows everything about you and your team. He knows what you do, how you do it and what you're thinking."

Holtz, who initially hired Strong to be a defensive line coach while at Notre Dame, continues to talk to the Gators' coach several times a month.

"[Holtz] coaches the game of life,'' Strong said. ``It's almost sometimes you get to a point in your life where you say, `I need Coach Holtz to come in here and just say something to me and get me going back again.'"

``You want both teams to be successful. But you want us to be more successful.''


Florida true freshman Chris Leak may have managed to impress most of the nation just six starts into his career, but not everyone thinks he's playing well beyond his years.

And one of those critics will have the chance to prove it Saturday. South Carolina cornerback Dunta Robinson told South Carolina's The State that it's still obvious Leak is a freshman.

"He's sort of a starer. He sort of locks in on his receivers," Robinson told the paper. "Maybe in high school he was around a good receiver and the [defensive backs] weren't that good, so he just locked in on him and still made the great throw.

"I think it's something he'll grow out of eventually, probably by next year. But right now he's still learning the game and has a good ways to go."

BRIEFLY Despite suffering a hip pointer during the Vanderbilt game, linebacker Reid Fleming will play Saturday against the Gamecocks. Coach Ron Zook said the Gators are at full health with the exception of "normal bumps and bruises."

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