From Rookie Star to Vet in a Blink of an Eye

It doesn't seem like it can really be more than three years since Chris Leak looked at the cameras, said he was going to trust the people he believes in and would be playing college football at the University of Florida. Actually, when you think about it, Chris Leak has just over two and a half years on the UF campus. Still, Leak has had three productive seasons for the Gators, despite having a different offensive coordinator each of those years.

Now Chris Leak enters spring practice in an entirely new role. He's not the hot shot prep star looking to take his game to the next level. He's the leader of a team with legitimate championship aspirations. That leadership development really began last year when Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen challenged Leak to be more vocal on and off the field.

Last year Leak was also challenged to add the option read to his skill level and that meant often running with the ball. But for him, running with the ball is somewhat counter intuitive. But he progressed through the year and made a number of important runs during the 2005 season. In f act, he was second on the Gators with six rushing touchdowns.

But throwing the ball is what makes Chris Leak go… and what he does best. He enters his senior season fourth in UF history with 8,271 passing yards and 65 touchdowns. He is likely to break the yardage record, but the TD mark (114, Danny Wuerffel) is seemingly out of reach.

So with a 12-game regular season schedule ahead of him Chris Leak begins what is almost certain to be an assault on the record books while trying to earn his first championship ring as a Gator. He's also going to be counted on to serve as a mentor for young phenom Tim Tebow; not only in teaching Tebow the offense, but helping him deal with the unique pressures associated with the quarterback position at the University of Florida. I spoke with Chris about a number of these things as spring practice gets underway. Along with some other media guys (MG).

LV: It wasn't that long ago when you first showed up, but now you're a senior. Did you feel like a senior today?

CL: I don't know, I really didn't notice because I haven't played my first game (as a senior) yet. But it feels to be back out here with the guys and being around some of the same guys for four years gives me a big comfort level.

LV: The Gators are having an unusually late start to spring ball. How do you feel about that? Are there any benefits you see by holding off to begin spring workouts until now?

CL: I guess you get a longer time to get bigger and stronger in the weight room with the off-season program. I don't think it really makes a difference because all schools are on different schedules. It's just an exciting time to finally get started.

LV: What was it like being able to throw to Bubba (Andre Caldwell) again? How did he look out there?

CL: He looked great. It looks like he hasn't lost a step. I'm throwing the ball to him and he's right there, getting his head turned and catching the ball really well. So I'm excited for him.

LV: For the first time in your Gator career you have the same offensive coordinator from the previous season. How much better is that for you that the repetition from the previous season will finally have some carry over?

CL: I'm just really excited to be in the same offense for two consecutive seasons. And I'm just real excited for the guys because it's the first time for them to. We're just going to try and build on where we finished off last year.

MG: What did you think of Tebow's performance today and how much did you give him pointers?

CL: I remember what it was like my first time, being a freshman your head's kind of everywhere. He's just gotta keep listening to the coaches and keep working hard and he'll be fine.

LV: What do you remember about your first practice?

CL: It was very hot! All the guys were helping me and telling me to calm down. Your adrenalin is flowing through your body in your first college practice and there's a lot of excitement.

LV: He seemed to under throw receivers quite a bit. Is that the biggest adjustment for him as a quarterback to realize how quickly things are happening downfield?

CL: Oh definitely for a younger guy. The speed in the SEC is so much faster than any other league and it's a big thing to adjust to for a quarterback.

The buzz surrounding Tim Tebow is understandable, but the key for the Gator offense in 2006 is the play of the guy wearing # 12 for the fourth time. The gap between the two was dramatic in the first day of light workouts and will probably stay that way for a long time. Tebow has the potential to be special and may well be ready to be a standout quarterback in '07, but any discussion of a quarterback battle for '06 is absurd.

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