|Friday, February 14
Dial A for Andre and a Florida connection
By Chris Leak with Wayne Drehs
Special to ESPN.com
I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't nervous on Signing Day. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't something difficult about this eight-month process finally coming to a screeching halt.
But it had nothing to do with joining seven of my teammates at a media-packed press conference where we signed our letters of intent. It had nothing to do with the finality of the moment, knowing that once we signed the paper, if we changed our minds and went somewhere else, we'd likely have to sit out a season.
Instead, it had everything to do with watching receiver Andre Caldwell announce his decision on SportsCenter. Everything else -- the TV cameras, the questions and the press conference at school -- was fun. But watching the television not knowing whether or not I'd have Andre to throw to for the next four years was tough.
After I orally committed to Florida in January, the Gator coaches asked me to help them recruit Andre and about 20 others. Some of the phone numbers I already had, from meeting guys at the U.S. Army All-American game in San Antonio, but the ones I didn't the coaches gave me.
On a typical day, I'd get home from school, finish my homework, eat dinner and then start calling guys, just to say hello and see how they were doing. I told everybody the same thing -- you have to follow your heart when making your decision, you have to do what's best for you. But remember, Florida is a great school. Ron Zook is a great coach. And we are going to win national championships -- plural -- in Gainesville. So why not be a part of that?
Andre knew all that already. His older brother Reche was a Gator so he was familiar with everything the school had to offer. I wanted him to get comfortable with me. We really clicked in San Antonio. I threw a 78-yard touchdown to Andre in the game and he and I joked that it was a glimpse into the future. Our phone conversations built on that.
But on Signing Day, when I sat in my house and watched his announcement, I couldn't help but wonder if it would actually happen. I hadn't talked to Andre in a couple days, giving him some space to sort things out. I had no idea what he was going to do.
Florida? Florida State? Miami? LSU?
I kept my fingers crossed. And then he said Florida. I couldn't have been more excited.
Wow. With Andre and Chad Jackson and some of the guys the Gators have at receiver already, we're going to have one heck of an offense the next few years. Overall, the recruiting class was tremendous -- six Parade All-Americans, the most for Florida since 1987. And I was the first Parade National Player of the Year to sign with the Gators since Emmitt Smith in 1987. Talk about big shoes to fill.
My goals in Gainesville are lofty, but honest -- three to four national championships and perhaps a Heisman Trophy. The way I see it, shoot for the top. Nobody sets his or her goals at 7-5.
The work has begun already. The Gator coaches are going to send me a playbook to study. And I'm watching film every day. My Dad taped all of Florida's games last year so I watch those over and over again. I go through the mental reps in my head so I can learn the offense.
Physically, I'm still resting my arm. It's been about four weeks since I've last thrown. I'm concentrating now on running and lifting. The plan is for me to head to Gainesville about once a month, hang out with the guys, meet the coaches and get acquainted with everything.
I officially report for summer workouts in June. I can't wait.
Blue Chip Wrap-Up Questions With Chris Leak
1. Knowing what you know now, if you had one piece of advice for high school juniors who are about to start this process in May, what would it be?
Chris Leak: Really, just try and enjoy every bit of it. It goes by fast. There are going to be frustrating parts, there are going to be times when you're sick of it, but just hang in there. You're going to truly enjoy it. You get to see a lot of new places, meet a lot of great people. Take time to soak that all in.
2. If you could change anything about the way recruiting is done, what would it be?
Chris Leak: It's pretty good. The only downer I'd say is coming home and knowing you have like 30 phone calls waiting for you. That's probably the only part that's tough. But after watching my older brother C.J. go through this, I expected this. And it's up to the players how many calls they want to take. If you have a test or something you say, 'Coach, I have a test.' And they understand. So really, you're in control of how crazy things get.
3. What are some of your favorite memories and what did enjoy most about the process?
Chris Leak: Seeing all the incredible places I got to see, like Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. I got to see so many great places and meet so many fine people. My favorite memories would have to be the games. I saw some great games. USC vs. Notre Dame. Florida and Auburn. Florida State and North Carolina. Texas and … oh wait, they played Baylor. I have no comment about that game. That was tough to watch. But the rest of them were great. The games were the best part.
4. A lot was made over Signing Day about negative recruiting. What was the worst thing one school told you the school you chose, trying to get you to change your mind?
Chris Leak: That was the thing about my decision. None of the schools put down the other schools at any point. They just recruited me as hard as they could. I didn't go through any of that other stuff. I guess I was very lucky.
5. What are you looking forward most to next year?
Chris Leak: Getting on the field and playing with my new teammates and Coach Zook and trying to win a national title. Gainesville is an exciting place to be. I can't wait to just be with my teammates. I want to fit in and be one of the guys. And maybe have some fun, too.
ESPN.com followed quarterback Chris Leak on his journey from high school to the college ranks. Leak and fellow Blue Chip participant QB/DB Tom Zbikowski wrote diaries about their recruitment. Look for Zbikowski's final diary installment on Feb. 21.