The springing of Leak

Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
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Florida quarterback Chris Leak throws during fall practice in this Aug. 11 photo.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun


Saturday's Game

  • WHAT: Wyoming at Florida
  • WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday
  • ON TV: PPV

  • His timing and delivery are way off and his recent performances have drawn groans and confused expressions from his teammates.
    We're talking about Chris Leak. Not the quarterback - the comedian. His passes are just fine, on target as usual, but his punch lines are straying.
    "His jokes are corny. Lame," chuckles senior strong safety Jarvis Herring. "He's gotten a little bit better, but when he first started telling them, he was telling jokes out of his own little world. I was like, 'Man, you need to go to joke school or find some new jokes.' "
    Leak's jokes may be bad, but that's OK with the Gators. They're just glad he's loosened up and opened up enough to feel comfortable telling them.
    For a team that's been seeking vocal leadership from its star quarterback, this is a sign that Leak has begun to emerge from his own little world - the one he occupied the last two years where he kept to himself, studied tape alone and silently led by example only.
    "Chris realizes how important a person he is and how much he influences others," senior offensive tackle Lance Butler said. "Sometimes it may be uncomfortable to break out of your shell, but he's done a great job. He was always a great leader. Now, he's more of a vocal great leader."
    Part of his transformation has been natural, just part of the maturation process. But what's really prompted it is new coach Urban Meyer, who demanded in the spring that Leak change his quiet, low-key field demeanor and become the outspoken leader of this offense, this team.
    Leak has responded. "He was always a silent leader in high school," said his father, Curtis Leak. "His high school coach (Charlotte, N.C., Independence's Tom Knotts) would always emphasize to the college coaches and recruiters that Chris would lead by example. He was brought up that way.
    "To be honest, I don't think changing is something that he wanted to do. But he understands it's something that's part of the job. That's what coach (Meyer) wants him to do. He's worked at it and the maturity came in at the same time. It's all just kind of clicked."
    The change in Leak has been obvious to his coaches and teammates.
    "Chris has gotten a lot more vocal," Herring said. "Coach demanded it out of him and didn't let him sit back and be quiet and keep to himself like he usually did. He made him do things with the guys. He's come around. He's a loose guy.
    "He likes to have fun. He likes to crack jokes and he plays around like the other players. There's a big-time difference."
    When Meyer took over the program in January, he inherited an experienced and highly efficient quarterback who was sort of viewed as a team loner. He was a private person, choosing to study tape alone for long hours at a time and quietly going about his business on the field.
    Meyer referred to Leak as the silent quarterback, because in his first two years at Florida, Leak never really talked on the field. Plays were signalled in to him from the sideline, center Mike Degory called out the defensive formations and determined when the ball was snapped, and Leak quietly carried out his role.
    In Meyer's offense, there is no such thing as a silent quarterback. The quarterback reads the defense, calls the plays, barks out the pass protections and signals and serves as the vocal/focal point of the offense.
    The formerly shy Leak has accepted the role.
    "Chris Leak is Chris Leak and that's a positive thing," Meyer said. "If my son turns out to be like Chris Leak, I'm a proud dad.
    "His leadership skills and ability to function in this offense as the quarterback are night and day from when he took the first snap (in the spring). He's obviously more vocal, which you have to be. Last year, he would go through a game without saying a word.
    "There are times when the players need to look at the general. The general is the quarterback."
    Not only has Leak become more vocal, he's also improved his leadership skills by becoming more accommodating. In the offseason, he didn't study tape alone for his own benefit. He watched tape with his receivers and running backs, something Meyer had urged him to do.
    "I had guys calling me to see extra tape this summer. That was special," Leak said. "Guys wanted to get better and wanted to get on the field and play. Sometimes, I'd have the entire wide receiver corps in there with me or I'd have the running backs.
    "I've had the receivers and the running backs in here all at the same time, which is about 15 to 20 guys."
    Leak is one of the guys now. That became obvious this summer when his teammates voted him a team captain, the only junior among those gaining captain status. The others are seniors.
    "Being a captain on this team is a big honor," Leak said. "Taking that and going out there and being a leader of this offense, taking full ownership, that's a big responsibility.
    "It makes it even better when you go out and earn it. The guys respect you for it. They'll go out and they'll play hard for you. That's a good feeling to have."
    The Gators are ready to follow Leak - even if they're not quite ready to laugh at his jokes.
    "He's always been kind of humorous," senior defensive end Justin Mincey said. "Maybe a little sarcastic."
    Robbie Andreu can be reached at 352-374-5022 or

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