Archive for Saturday, September 20, 2003

Brothers to clash in Florida-Tennessee game

Older sibling’s role as backup quarterback with Volunteers convinced younger Leak to pick Gators in recruiting

September 20, 2003

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— As a young boy, Chris Leak often envisioned himself playing quarterback on the same college team with his older brother. Things changed when the brother, C.J. Leak, was pigeonholed as a backup at Tennessee.

Because of the tough times C.J. went through with the Vols, Chris spurned Tennessee, which had been his top choice, in favor of Florida, one of the Vols' main rivals.

When the 17th-ranked Gators play the 12th-ranked Vols today in their Southeastern Conference opener, the brothers will be on opposite sidelines -- a pair of talented quarterbacks playing against each other instead of together, and proving that sometimes the most well-intentioned plans don't work out.

"I've put all that behind me," Chris said. "There were a lot of things I don't agree with, but it's in the past."

To understand Chris' decision to choose Florida (2-1) over Tennessee (2-0), it's important to first know the circumstances that led C.J. to the Vols.

A highly touted quarterback out of Charlotte, N.C., C.J. accepted a scholarship to go to Wake Forest after high school. At around the time C.J. entered college, the Wake Forest coaches were so enamored with Chris that they offered him a scholarship, as well, even though he hadn't even begun high school.

As some saw it, the idea was that the Leaks would play football together, with C.J. showing Chris the ropes, then eventually stepping aside for his younger brother. Things took a turn when C.J. hurt his knee at Wake, then transferred to Tennessee before the 2001 season. The Vols, already one of Chris' favorites, immediately went to the top of his list.

After the transfer, C.J. used his mandatory year on the sideline to rehabilitate the injury. He went into 2002 with the assumption that he would get a chance to be the Vols' starting quarterback.

That chance came belatedly, and when it did, it lasted less than a quarter.

With his younger brother in the stands, C.J. started last October's game against Georgia in place of the injured Casey Clausen. But he lasted only a few plays, and threw just three passes. The Leaks looked at it as a slap in the face, and shortly afterward, Chris knew he couldn't go to Tennessee.

"I always dreamed of playing for Tennessee," Chris wrote last December in a diary published on ESPN.com. "I pictured myself parading with my teammates through the Vol Walk and splitting the 'T' like hundreds of Vols before me. But that dream is dead. I've dropped Tennessee from my list."

The reason, he said, was trust. He claimed Vols coach Phil Fulmer never fulfilled his promise to give C.J. a legitimate chance to start.

"Deep in my heart, I could never trust what the Tennessee coaches tell me. So I'm finished with the Vols," Chris wrote.

Two months later, he announced his decision to go to Florida. He was the most-hyped recruit of the year.

"It was an emotional time for the entire family," their father, Curtis, said of the awkwardness with Tennessee. "Everybody was disappointed. The whole country saw it. But we don't have any hard feelings toward them, and they don't have any hard feelings toward us."

For his part, Fulmer calls the whole saga "water under the bridge."

"It's not something that has anything to do with this game," he said.

But the Leaks could end up being a big part of the game.

Chris, in fact, will almost certainly get playing time. Florida coach Ron Zook has played him about every third series since the season began. Sophomore Ingle Martin is still the starter.

C.J. is a second-stringer behind Clausen. He's one injury away from being in the game. Of course, whether he plays or not, C.J. and his brother are already in the spotlight this week.

"It's in the past," said C.J., who may finally get his chance to start next season.

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