florida's Leak ready to shoulder expectations, take command
By Louis Anastasis Independent Florida Alligator
Gainesville, FL (U-WIRE) -- The pressure follows Chris Leak, corners him, then demands his football soul.
The pressure speaks to him in tongues. First, it scrutinizes him through boosters and tortures him with a Sports Illustrated cover. Then, the pressure gives him ultimatums: as a junior, you must play like a senior. Instead of a quarterback, you must play like a Heisman-back. Hundreds of passing yards a game won't cut it if you choke in the fourth quarter.
So what does Leak do? He charges out of the corner with the fury of a young Mike Tyson.
"It's part of being the leader of the team," said Leak, of pressure, his nemesis. "It's my team, I've taken full ownership of it."
Shouldn't it smart? All this pressure, especially now. With Urban Meyer's spread offense infiltrating the Swamp, fans won't ask Leak whether he will pass for four touchdowns a game. Rather, it'll be: "will you go to Chad Jackson for three and Andre Caldwell for one, or do you want Tate Casey and Dallas Baker to catch one too?"
Like choosing between gummy bears and peanut butter cups at the candy store, there is no failure taffy that Leak can purchase instead. And he wouldn't want to take that route either. Max out the credit card, because Leak has one heck of a sweet tooth.
"I mean that's why you come here," said Leak about the hopes and demands for him to take the Gators in 2005 to - dare we say it? - where they last went in 1996. "You want to be able to play in those big games, play in those SEC title games. You come here because the expectations are high."
He won't take being pretty good for an option, this 2005 Leak.
That's why he can't remember how much time he's spent in the film room this summer. "Endless hours" he says, recalling how Meyer assigned him the entire spread offense rather than making it a two-year project.
"You have to learn till you've got it down," Leak said. "It doesn't matter how long you're going to be in the film room as long as you get it."
- CHRIS-TENING A CHANGED LEAK -
Oh, if it was only so simple. Leak, regarded for years as a connoisseur of film study, is still cultivating his affinity for his two more challenging projects: becoming a vocal leader and proving he can run in the spread offense.
Project A is a full go, or at least close to it. During spring, Meyer dared Leak to speak up during practices and in the locker room, to make his presence felt by more than perfect spirals. And a naturally quiet Leak did because had he refused, Meyer would have been just fine benching him.
"When I first got here, he wouldn't say anything at all, but Coach Meyer has gotten him to say a lot of stuff," freshman quarterback Josh Portis said. "Meyer keeps telling him, 'Be more, more, more vocal. Be more social.' If he doesn't do that, we're going to suffer."
Project B is still up for debate - unless you're Leak or one of his coaches. The junior, often criticized for his inability to run in the open field, insists he can do just that. Quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, Dan Mullen, suggests something even more surprising: Leak packs more horsepower than quarterback Alex Smith, Utah's Mr. Do-It-All last season and first overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft.
"Alex carried the ball about eight times a game. I see Chris doing the same, maybe more," Mullen said. "He's a little better runner than Alex. Alex was more of a drop-back guy. Chris is more of an athletic guy."
While no one doubts whether he has the sharpest trigger on the team, reserve quarterbacks Portis, Gavin Dickey and Cornelius Ingram all sport better wheels than Leak. And they let him know it.
"We joke about him in the film room sometimes," Portis said. "We're like, 'Can you take that to the house?' and everybody looks at him and we start laughing."
As for how he stacks up against Smith's college game, Meyer only sees one disparity.
"The only difference is that Alex never had any experience," Meyer said. "Chris has had two years of experience in the SEC and in the shotgun, so we're going."
- LEAVING THE PAST BEHIND -
An exhausted Leak trots off the practice field and almost walks past his complimentary Gatorade when linebacker Todd McCullough jogs from behind and interrupts a discussion about the upcoming season.
"I've tried to help his throwing motion," says McCullough with a straight face. "We went back to basics of our middle school days."
An even more serious Leak responds: "Yeah, Todd's been working with me. He's been keeping my shoulder right."
Laughter ensues. Joking aside, Leak has improved his throwing motion. He reloads just a little quicker, fires just a little faster. It's one of the new wrinkles in his game.
You see, this season, it will be about doing things differently - about breaking runs, about yelling at teammates, about winning close games. At the very least, it will be about trying to do things differently.
He will play the role of the plumber. There is a leak in Gator Nation he is looking to seal.
(C) 2004 Independent Florida Alligator via U-WIRE