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January 4, 2007
Title game will cement Leak's legacy at Florida
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. His résumé shows 11,000 passing yards, 870 completions, 87 touchdowns and 36 victories in four years.
Yet, one final game will likely determine the legacy of Florida senior quarterback Chris Leak.
Upset No. 1 Ohio State in Monday's national championship game, and in future years the passionate football fans of Gainesville will remember Leak as a legend.
A loss may cast him as a letdown.
It's a grossly unfair winner-take-all proposition, but Leak should be familiar with those. He has been unfairly booed and criticized far too often in his four seasons as the Gators quarterback.
Yet one more victory and Leak will earn a special place in Florida history, and maybe even a special place in the hearts of all Florida fans.
The always-unflappable Leak side-stepped a question about whether the national championship game might be the defining moment of his career, instead putting emphasis on his team.
"We are the type of team that we have always stayed hungry throughout the season and for every game," Leak said. "And this is one of those things that we just approach it the same way. This is where we expected to be in the beginning of the season, and we just feel fortunate to be here and we are just going to prepare the best we can.
"I think being able to play for a national title your senior year really is a great thing. It makes me real proud. We put in a lot of hard work and dedication over these last four years, and to be in the position we are today really, really makes you proud all the hard work has paid off."
Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen acknowledged that Leak may ultimately be judged by his final game, but said he should be judged only by his final season.
"I think this season has really been the season you have to define Chris Leak's career on," Mullen said. "He is playing under the same (coaching) staff, in the same offense and with the same coordinator for two years in a row. He has got a chance to really step up and prove himself, and has the opportunity that I know he was expecting when he came to Florida."
Those expectations were set because of Leak's brilliance and the tremendous success of a coach for whom he never played.
Leak set national passing records at Independence High School in Charlotte, N.C., and came to Florida in 2003 as the nation's second-rated quarterback prospect by Rivals.com.
Even while leading the Gators to 12 victories this season, Leak has endured boos at times. Backup quarterback Tim Tebow received only adulation from the Florida faithful. Some fans even chanted "Tebow for Heisman" despite the fact he played only a few snaps per game and did not excel as a passer.
"If you look at Chris, he was thrown in as a true freshman to play in the Southeastern Conference, which is never going to be a great start for anyone in their career. That's a tough situation to be in," Mullen said. "As he started to gain his experience, he had a change in coaching staff, so he had to make an adjustment for that."
With a year under his belt, Leak thrived in Meyer's system. Though getting minimal help from the running game, Leak has completed 62.9 percent of his passes this season for 2,729 yards and 22 touchdowns. He led come-from-behind victories over Tennessee and Alabama.
"Chris Leak is a great quarterback," Ohio State defensive tackle David Patterson said. "He can throw well on the run. He really gets the ball to the playmakers and in position to make plays. He has one of the tightest spirals I have ever seen. He does a lot of things well."
Whether Leak is a great quarterback may be argued. But with one more victory, even the most demanding fans in Gainesville will be in agreement.