Leak reminisces on first start


As a freshman, quarterback Chris Leak led the Gators to a come-from-behind victory at Kentucky in his first start.

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Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 23, 2013 at 11:57 p.m.

Tyler Murphy doesn't have to look far to get some advice on making your first start at quarterback on the road in Lexington, Ky.

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As a freshman, quarterback Chris Leak led the Gators to a come-from-behind victory at Kentucky in his first start.

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In fact, it's already come up.

“We talked about that,” Leak said. “He didn't know until I told him.”

Leak, a graduate assistant at Florida who is working with the quarterbacks, made his first start in the same stadium that Murphy will.

It was 10 years ago Friday and turned out to be one of the memorable games in Florida history.

“Really? 10 years?” Leak said. “That makes me feel old.”

The circumstances are as different as they are similar. Yes, the Bluegrass State was the scene of Leak's first start and it will be for Murphy's.

But Leak was an 18-year-old true freshman who had been with the program for four games. Murphy is a 21-year-old junior who has been with the program for four years.

“The maturity level is different,” Leak said.

Leak was also considered to be a major coup for coach Ron Zook when he signed with the Gators, while Murphy was something of a project.

Murphy was a two-star quarterback who sat for three years.

“We thought Murphy was a real good athlete and was a great kid when he visited,” coach Urban Meyer said via text message. “Great high school video.”

And while Murphy is playing because of an injury, Leak played because of a coach's decision.

“We had to do something to jump-start the offense,” Zook told The Sun. “We felt like it was time. You knew you were going to have growing pains. But Chris was a unique guy in the way he approached games and with his maturity.”

Florida had split its first four games in 2003 when Zook approached Leak in the weight room and told him he would start. Leak had played in Florida's first four games, but Ingle Martin had been the starter.

“I was obviously excited, but at the same time I was ready to go,” he said. “I was on a mission to get Florida back to the top and I knew it was a matter of time. I embraced it.

“I already had a lot of game experience leading up to it and I felt comfortable with the offense.”

In Lexington that day, Leak's first three plays as the University of Florida starting quarterback went like this:

1. False start penalty.

2. Incomplete pass.

3. Sack.

And for the rest of the first half, it didn't get much better. Florida finally got a field goal late in the half, but Kentucky answered with a touchdown in the third quarter to take a 21-3 lead.

It appeared Florida's long winning streak over the Wildcats was in major jeopardy.

“I knew Kentucky was going to throw everything at me,” Leak said. “But I also knew that all we needed was one touchdown to get back into the game.”

Florida received a break when Kentucky was penalized 15 yards on a UF punt and the Gators took over on their own 40. On the next play, Leak hit Kelvin Kight with a 40-yard pass. He then threw a short touchdown pass to Carlos Perez.

Florida went for two and didn't get it. Down 21-9, Florida got the ball back only to lose it when Leak threw his second interception of the game. Again, Florida's defense held and a 25-yard punt return by Keiwan Ratliff set up another touchdown pass to Perez.

It was now 21-16. All Kentucky had to do was run out the final four minutes on the clock to beat the Gators.

On second down, Kentucky's 270-pound quarterback Jared Lorenzen dropped back to pass. Florida linebacker Channing Crowder got to Lorenzen, but couldn't bring him down. Instead, Lorenzen spun around and threw the ball blindly down the field and into the waiting arms of Florida defensive back Johnny Lamar, who returned the pick 35 yards to the 1-yard line, Florida punched it in and left with a victory.

“I'd seen that big old guy make plays before with guys hanging on him,” Zook said. “I was just glad to get the win.”

Leak finished the game 20 of 35 for 268 yards. He would go on to become Florida's all-time passing leader and won a national title.

“I hear 35 pass attempts and I want to call Coach Zook and thank him for having that much trust in me,” Leak said. “That means a lot to me, even today.”

On Saturday, Murphy will try to do what Leak did 10 years ago — win his first start and do it in Lexington.

“It'll be deja vu for me,” Leak said

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