Boys of summer giving glimpse into the future

Anyone who has ever attended the University of Florida, or any college for that matter has been in the exact same shoes. Living with one, two and sometimes even three guys is no walk in the park. From deciding who gets the remote control, to solving the question of who finished off the bag of Doritos, it's all part of the package that comes with the college experience.

For "the" quartet on the Gators football team, living together over the summer has translated into a close friendship off the field, and even closer relationship on. Sophomore's Chris Leak, Andre Caldwell, Chad Jackson and Dee Webb have been roommates for a year now, and midway through the 2004 campaign each has started to shine.

In 2003, Leak was the toast of the town and Caldwell garnered plenty of freshman attention with his work in the slot. For Jackson and Webb however, it was a different story. Jackson had his job as kick returner revoked after fumbling against Tennessee and never gained it back till the Outback Bowl, while Webb spent his year learning from the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year in Keiwan Ratliff.

All part of the celebrated Ron Zook recruiting class that ranked No. 2 in the nation, the foursome was held together in the off season by the study habits of Leak.

"The whole off-season, I've was working with them," Leak said at the beginning of fall. "We sat down to watch film, and we'd just go over things that we can work on from last year."

Working on film wasn't the only thing the guys did. Living together didn't turn the athletes in Easy Mac eating homebodies, but rather they could be seen on any given day tossing it around on the practice field. Not only did they toss it around themselves, but they were also joined by the likes of current NFL stars Lito Sheppard and Jabar Gaffney.

The hard work and togetherness has translated into nothing but results for the group of four so far this season and here's where they stand in my opinion after six games:

Leak leads the SEC in TD's thrown with 15, yards with 1571, and average per game with 261.8. Not bad for a sophomore. Heck, not bad for a senior. He has truly thrived in Larry Fedora's system and I don't think enough credit is given to Ed Zaunbrecher. Take away a three-interception performance against the Wildcats and your looking at a Heisman numbers with 15:2 TD to Interception ratio. Leak has consistently hit his targets, but at the same time it must be remembered that he is still just a sophomore with his second offensive coordinator in as many years.

In the second half of 2004, I'd like to see Leak continue to excel in the play action and involve his running backs more with the screen. Often times Leak checks off from receiver to receiver and due to the fact he has three to four options in passing situations, he neglects to look at Fason or Wynn running parallel to him. Regardless, he has been nothing short of top notch.

Caldwell and Jackson have emerged into the receivers that the hype billed them up to be. And there was plenty of hype to be billed with coming as the No.2 and 3 receivers per in 2003. With the departures of Kight, Perez and Troupe, the two have gotten their chance to shine and have done just that. Jackson comes in at No. 7 in the SEC at yards per game with 60. A hair behind him at No. 8 is Caldwell with 59.5. Both have started to turn the corner just in time for the second half of 2004.

With both returning kicks and Jackson the newly anointed punt returner, this duo will continue to light up opponents. Against Middle Tennessee State, Caldwell finally caught his first receiving touchdown of his career.

"I have been waiting for a long time and it finally came to me," he said. "That relieved a lot of stress and I was able to get into the end zone."

Jackson had his big play at Tennessee and Coach Zook knew his time would come.

"He's making plays now and he's going to continue to make plays," Zook said earlier this year. "Confidence is much better especially when you make plays like he has. I'm really proud of him."

Both guys need to stay focused on being productive in 2004, as Jackson continues to get more playing time and Caldwell is all over the field on offense.

Webb has come into his own after being tested early throughout the year. He now has interceptions in two consecutive games after having some butterflies earlier on in the season. His 31 tackles on the year put him at 16th in the SEC among defensive backs, but even more telling is the fact that he is third on the team from his corner back position ahead of Cory Bailey and co. He is also second in the SEC in passes defended.

Webb has been solid and for the rest of the year, I'd like to see him continue making the reads and getting a good jump on the ball. With Georgia and FSU receivers looming on the horizon, it's going to be important for him to wrap up receivers for tackles on his first attempt.

Only sophomores, the fantastic four is succeeding as expected by many Gator fans. With two years left to mature, both on and off the field, the group should give fits to opposing teams for quite some time. Living together has its benefits and the guys closeness will benefit them in ways that will translate to on the field success. Even if someone finished off the Doritos.

Fightin Gators Top Stories