He ranks in the top five in every meaningful passing category in the history of the University of Florida yet some view Chris Leak’s career as disappointing. Rated by some as the best quarterback in the nation four years ago, Leak has accomplished a lot of things but he still doesn’t have a championship ring. Fair or not that must change for Leak to truly be considered among Florida’s best ever.
To that end, Leak is hoping to capitalize on having the same quarterback coach and offensive coordinator for the first time in his Gator tenure. He hopes to capitalize on the familiarity with veteran receivers like Dallas Baker, Jemalle Cornelius and Bubba Caldwell. He hopes to capitalize on the unique talents of Cornelius Ingram and the explosive potential of freshmen Jarred Fayson and Percy Harvin.
Leak certainly takes momentum into his final season of college football. He led the Gators to wins over Florida State and Iowa to help UF reach the nine win mark for the first time since 2001. In those games, he looked like a guy finally comfortable with an offense that doesn’t really suit him. Leak passed for 489 yards in those contests with four touchdowns and just one interception. He also ran 20 times for 51 yards after netting just 30 rushing yards in his first ten games.
Those games were also the only time all season the Gators topped the 30-point mark in consecutive games.
So now Chris Leak faces the challenge of being a senior and taking the Gators to a championship. I spoke with him about his year ahead and got his assessment of how the offense is coming along this fall.
LARRY VETTEL: Chris how do you feel about the way the offense is progressing this fall?
CHRIS LEAK: Oh, I’m feeling great. Guys are really taking a leadership role with the young guys and getting them better. Guys like Dallas (Baker). Jemalle (Cornelius), Bubba (Caldwell) and (Kenny) Tookes have raised their level of play. The offensive line is doing a great job of learning their new roles so I’m really excited about the season.
LV: Speaking of receivers, two freshmen Jarred Fayson and Percy Harvin have been really impressive in the early going. What sets them apart from other receivers that they have picked things up so quickly?
CL: They know there’s a tradition of great receivers here and they’ve come in here and worked hard. Their knowledge of football is high. You can tell they were well coached in high school because they understand how to play. They are football savvy guys and that helps them on the field.
LV: The other day Coach Meyer was talking glowingly about the leadership on this team and we hear that a lot, but he pointed out the incredibly large (20) senior class the Gators have. How much do you think that affects the dynamic of this team?
CL: Well those are the leaders of the team and we need the young guys to follow the example of those 20 seniors. For us to have a great year our seniors will have to finish strong. We want this to be our best year and we want the young guys to be able to pick up where we leave off.
LV: We (media folks) talk all the time about you having the same coordinator for consecutive years for the first time. Does it really make it easier and better for you and how so?
CL: The main thing is all of us being around it together. As a result the timing is much better; our understanding of each other is much better. In the film room and on the field we know how each other is thinking.
LV: This offense did not generate many big plays last year with just eight runs and six passes for over 30 yards. Do you think the improved timing will lead to the return of the big play in the Gator offense?
CL: Oh definitely, we’re learning how to read defenses better and anticipate things. When you anticipate things you play faster and when you play faster you make defenses have to play much better. When you’re playing faster and doing the right things, big plays are gonna happen.
LV: With so many changes (four new starters) on the offensive line, how comfortable are you with the guys up front being able to get the job done?
CL: I’m really comfortable. Those guys really work hard and I appreciate what they’re doing. I’m excited to be behind them this year.
LV: Steve Rissler is the old man of the bunch. Do you see him taking over that group?
CL: Those are his boys. Steve gets them ready to go and calls the signals and makes sure they are on their “P’s and Q’s”. He has those guys working so hard and I’m grateful to have him.
LV: Can you believe it’s your senior year?
CL: Man, it goes by fast I’ll tell you. I’ve enjoyed every year here as a Gator and I want this to be my best year. I’m excited about getting it going.