|Wednesday, October 16
Updated: October 17, 10:00 AM ET
Blood's thicker than the recruiting waters
By Chris Leak with Wayne Drehs
Special to ESPN.com
Waking up at 5 a.m. is no easy task -- especially if you don't get to bed before midnight.
But this past Saturday morning was different. It was special. My big brother C.J. was scheduled to start at quarterback for Tennessee -- the first time he's started since 2000 when he was still at Wake Forest. I couldn't wait. Even though it was pitch black outside when my alarm sounded, I sprung out of bed as if I'd slept until noon.
Unfortunately, the early wakeup, the 200-mile drive to Athens, Ga. and all that extra excitement was pretty much for naught. C.J. started, but didn't do much. On his first series, he handed off, handed off again, and then was sacked. On the second series, he handed off, handed off again, and then rushed for three yards.
On the third series, he was benched.
He came back for a series in the third quarter, but never got into a rhythm, never got a chance. My Dad and I were shocked. Earlier in the week, the Tennessee coaches told my Dad the team had one of its best practices of the year with C.J. at quarterback and that they couldn't wait for him to start.
But less than five minutes in the game, true freshman James Banks -- not my brother -- was the quarterback. Though I don't think he'd admit it, my brother was crushed. So was my Dad. And so was I.
What does it all mean? How does this affect me and my decision whether or not to attend Tennessee? That remains to be seen. C.J. was supposed to talk with his coaches this week to find out what happened. Then I'm going to talk to C.J.
I don't want his situation to affect my decision, nor do I want my decision to affect what happens with him, but it's difficult to separate the two. A big reason I'm interested in Knoxville is to play with him.
For now, Tennessee is still the leader. And the margin between the Vols and the rest of college football's elite hasn't changed much. It's just that now, there are some questions and concerns about Tennessee, some chinks in their armor.
For one, I'm not a scrambler like Banks. If Tennessee is looking for a scrambler, if they want to build their future around a running quarterback, I'm not their guy. I'm like my brother. We're the same style of quarterback. We're pocket passers that are mobile, kind of like Donovan McNabb. But we're not scramblers. People want to compare us to Michael Vick, but that's not the type of guy we are at all.
It's important to me to go to a school that fits my offensive style. That's what the pros are looking for, guys who can sit back there in the pocket and move when they need to. Somebody who can read defenses. Not somebody who is taking off on every play.
But if that's what Tennessee wants, that's fine. It just means I'm the wrong guy for them. I like to help my team by putting up numbers. It's sort of like Casey Clausen, who does a tremendous job staying in the pocket and hitting his open receivers. If that's the kind of guy they're looking for, it's a perfect fit.
Another smaller concern of mine is the way C.J. was treated. It's hard not to be disappointed, especially with how hard he's worked. He shredded his knee two years ago as a freshman at Wake Forest, transferred to Tennessee, worked tirelessly on his rehab, on learning the new offense, all the while knowing he was going to be a backup. He's back to 100-percent, was having great practices, then Casey gets hurt and C.J. is supposed to get his chance, but it never happens. We'll just have to wait and see what it all means. The Tennessee coaches are trying to win football games. And I understand that.
In other news this week, my first official visit will be to the University of Florida this weekend. I was going to wait until after the season, but our schedules worked out for this weekend so I'm going to Gainesville Saturday morning and coming back on Sunday. I've requested that Rex Grossman be my host. I know he'll be extremely busy with game preparations, so I'm not sure if it will work out.
Either way, Florida is a school that I'm seriously considering. If Tennessee is No. 1 right now, the Gators are 1A. After we got home last Saturday night, I stayed up late to watch the replay of the LSU game. Obviously Florida struggled a bit, but a big part of that was what LSU did on defense.
In my opinion, the Gator dynasty is far from over. I was down there with a couple of my receivers for football camp this past summer and I really liked Coach Zook and the enthusiasm he brought to the game. Not to mention his offense. I love it when a coach gives the quarterback the ball, gives him the options and lets him pick apart defenses. It should be a great time in Gainesville.
Also, I've changed my Top 5. Florida State and Texas have replaced North Carolina and South Carolina. The offenses for both the Seminoles and Longhorns have caught my attention. Both places are quarterback friendly. The offenses are designed to rely heavily on the quarterback and there is a ton of talent around to help execute the game plan. And I really seem to click well with their coaches. So even though it was a tough decision, I had to eliminate the two local schools and include Florida State and Texas in the list of schools I'm seriously considering.
On the field, things have been clicking real nicely for our team. Last week, we beat Harding 69-6, as I completed 22-of-33 attempts for 380 yards and five touchdowns. I also ran for another touchdown. The best part was that the young guys on offense are really starting to feel comfortable. Eight different teammates scored against Harding as we pushed our winning streak to 37 straight games.
We now hold the county record for consecutive wins, which we set two weeks ago in our 54-14 win over rival West Charlotte. But we still have a long way to go before we play a perfect game. And that, after all, is the ultimate goal.
Ask Chris Leak
Chris Leak: Well, I would say, the best way to answer that, is when I watch a game on TV, I read the defense to see what defense they're playing and how the quarterback reacts. Then I see what type of offense they counter that with. I also really like to see what the good quarterbacks do well and how I can use that to improve my game.
As for our own games, I watch probably five to six hours of tape a week. I watch for my own fundamentals. If a pass is low in a game, how come it was low? I'll look at the routes, my timing with my receivers, everything. I'll go back two to three weeks to see if anything has changed. Then if we're playing a team we played last year, that's the first tape I'll pop in, to get an idea of what challenges we're going to face that week. All in all, I probably watch five or six hours of tape a week.
My question has to with your dad and your brother being so involved in your development. Has there ever been a time where you have been led in a direction YOU did not want to go? And how did you communicate it to them or anyone else?
Chris Leak: Honestly, I haven't. So far, I've been following things that my Dad, my mom and my brother have taught me and doing everything I can to stay on the right path and so far it's worked. They've been where I am so their advice is invaluable. I wouldn't be where I am today without it.
Is the success of Notre Dame pulling you toward the direction of the Irish more than it would say maybe two years ago?
Chris Leak: Well, a couple years ago, they ran more of an option-type offense. The offense that they run now, I guess is more the style or type that I'm running here in high school. So that sparks an interest. Anytime you see a school doing things that are similar to what you're doing, you're going to be interested. Having said that, success is important too. It's both. You can run a wide-open offense, the type that I like to play in, but not win football games. I mean, look at how wide open Kentucky was last year and what their record? (2-9). So it needs to be a familiar offense and you need to execute it well. Right now, Notre Dame is executing things very well.
Chris, congratulations on all you've accomplished, but here's my query... Why would you consider the University of Florida as one of your choices given that an African American has never started at quarterback there? Would it be the allure of creating history?
Chris Leak: I like Florida. It's a great school. A great place to be at. It's in the sunshine state. The offense is very wide open. I just love that offense. I mean, that's really wide open, much like what we run here at Independence. And that's all I try to worry about. All I care is that when it comes time to get on the field, the best man will play. I don't worry about the racial issues or playing for a black coach. When it comes time to make a decision, I'll go where my heart tells me to go.
I recently read about you in a magazine. Not only are you an excellent athlete, but you're very good looking. I was wondering how much attention you get when you go out, especially from the ladies!! Ha. Best of luck.
Chris Leak: Oh man. I don't know how to answer that. I'm just like any other person. I just go out and whatever happens, happens. But I don't have a girlfriend yet. Not yet. For now, I'm just trying to stay focused on school and football.
Send in your questions and Chris will answer a few in his next diary.
ESPN.com is following quarterback Chris Leak on his journey from high school to the college ranks. Leak is writing a diary about his recruitment, and there will be weekly updates on the recruiting process through Signing Day on Feb. 5, 2003.