|Thursday, September 5
Updated: September 18, 4:31 PM ET
Diary: Battle for the Carolinas
By Chris Leak with Wayne Drehs
Special to ESPN.com
For a few months now, people have been waiting for this game. They've argued about it on message boards, talked about it in barbershops and bickered about it in fast food restaurants.
Both teams are stacked. Both teams think they deserve to win. Both team have been chomping at the bit to get at one another.
How big is the game? 25,000 fans are expected to overflow downtown Charlotte's Memorial Coliseum. And Florida head coach Ron Zook sent me a hand-written letter this week, wishing me luck in the big game.
Last Sunday, both Phillip Fulmer, the head coach at Tennessee and Randy Sanders, the offensive coordinator, called to wish me luck as well. My Dad and I went to the Vols' game against Wyoming in Nashville last Saturday. We had tickets on the 50-yard line, which was quite a perk. I had never had such great seats before. It was a great game, especially since my brother C.J. got in during the third quarter and made some things happen.
Fulmer and Sanders not only wanted to make sure that I enjoyed the game, but, more importantly, they told me I'm their No. 1 prospect -- that they want me more than any other player in the country. For any coach to say that, right now, this early in the game, means so much. It's a great feeling and it's good to know that my hard work is paying off.
I know through my brother's recruiting process that coaches will tell you want you want to hear. I know that they will tell 10 different guys that they are that school's No. 1. But for Tennessee to lay that on the line this early is really special. It is the only school to tell me I'm their No. 1.
And it only pushes me to work harder. In practice this week, the intensity has certainly picked up. Last week, we beat Providence convincingly, but it was sloppy. We played a near flawless first half, going up 33-0 as I threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more touchdowns. But the second half was ugly.
Penalties, miscommunication, and an interception plagued us. We had 21 penalties for 159 yards in the game, including 14 illegal procedure or delay-of-game penalties on the offense. Afterwards, coach Knotts was furious. So this week, it's back to fundamentals and trying to be more disciplined. I think part of the problem might have been the fact that Providence didn't have a 25-second clock, so the referees just kept the time and we didn't know what it was.
Still, it was inexcusable. An effort like that against Spartanburg and we're in deep trouble. They lost their season opener last week in overtime to Union, the team they defeated in the state championship, so that means they're going to be even hungrier.
We've watched a ton of film on their first game and they have great speed on the defensive side of the ball. Even the big guys up front can move around. They'll give us all kinds of different looks, switching things up. But we're ready for it. I need just 85 yards set the North Carolina career record for passing yardage. But I'm telling you -- I'd trade it all for a win.
This is the closest many of us will get to a college-like atmosphere. It's for bragging rights. It's for pride.
From the mailbag
Chris Leak: I mean, I think that would matter to any quarterback. When you pick a school and go to that school, you want to be the guy. You want to be the man. And if they have signed someone else and are telling them that they are the man, certainly that would play a big part in the decision making process.
What will your major be in college and who is your biggest sports hero?
Chris Leak: My major, I don't know yet. I've heard that nowadays, people go to college and change their major two or three times. So I'm going to take my time in deciding on that. As for my sports hero, I guess I'll stick with football, stick with quarterbacks and say Joe Montana. My style is a little bit like Donovan McNabb's, but I would say Montana because he is the greatest player to every play the game -- so far. You just can't beat four Super Bowls.
ESPN.com is following quarterback Chris Leak on his journey from high school to the college ranks. Leak will be writing a diary about his recruitment, and we will file regular reports on the recruiting process every Thursday through Signing Day on Feb. 5, 2003.
Send in your questions and Chris will answer a few in his next diary.