Leak's a lock to return

He's listed as a senior in Tennessee's souvenir program but backup quarterback C.J. Leak says he is a lock to be back with the Vols next season.

As a sophomore QB at Wake Forest in 2000, Leak took a hit in Game 4 against Clemson that tore every ligament in his left knee but one. After undergoing total reconstructive surgery, he sat out the rest of 2000 and all of 2001 while recuperating. Having transferred to Tennessee during his rehab, he played sparingly in 2002 and again in 2003.

Because the injury required 18 months to heal and cost him almost two full seasons of eligibility, Leak is convinced the NCAA will grant his petition for a sixth year of eligibility.

''The petition's already in,'' he said. ''Before I even filed it, it was 99.9 percent sure; the severity of my injury alone qualified me.

''Everything looks good that I'll be back.''

Leak completed 6 of 14 passes for 56 yards in 2002 and connected on 5 of 8 for 66 yards and a touchdown in 2003. With Casey Clausen down to his final game of eligibility, Leak looms as a leading contender for the Vols' starting job next fall ... assuming his petition is granted.

Other candidates for the QB job in 2004 are parttime receiver James Banks, LSU transfer Rick Clausen, 2003 signee Bo Hardegree, walk-on Jim Bob Cooter and recent commitment Erik Ainge of Hillsboro, Ore.

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