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South quarterback Chris Leak of Florida throws a pass during drills as South coach Mike Nolan of the San Francisco 49ers watches.
AP photo by G.M. Andrews
South quarterback Chris Leak of Florida throws a pass during drills as South coach Mike Nolan of the San Francisco 49ers watches.

Leak still
facing a battle

After national title, Florida quarterback enters Senior
Bowl with more to prove

By Bradley Handwerger 340-2462

MOBILE — Not even Courtney Taylor, Kenny Irons, Ken Darby or Juwan Simpson received the welcoming Chris Leak did Monday night in the Mobile Convention Center.

No, the biggest horde of reporters in Mobile this week has surrounded Leak, Florida's newest poster child for defeating the odds.

Leak was supposed to be the savior of the Gators' football program when he signed to play there in 2003.

And then Florida went into a funk, not even contending for an SEC or national championship through Leak's first three years.

Fans turned sour on their savior. Then came the newest superstar, Tim Tebow. Suddenly, Leak wasn't even good enough to play an entire game. Fans booed Leak, cheered on Tebow.

Ah, but here's where this story turns golden for Leak.

He didn't complain. He continued working hard. And he won most valuable player honors at the BCS Championship Game, leading Florida past Ohio State 41-14.

Indeed, Leak had the last laugh.

Now he's in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, preparing for a career as an NFL quarterback.

"I'll say this about Chris Leak — he's a class act," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach John Gruden, who will coach against Leak on Saturday.

"For him to delegate some of his role to Tim Tebow, to learn a new system, to hang in there and to perform as he did down the stretch, that will only help him."

Yet, he still is focused, knowing there's still work to do.

"I've always been the person that stays focused on making sure I'm prepared for the game and my teammates are prepared," Leak said. "That's the way I've done it all season. This is game week for me. This is a very important week of practice."

Leak finished his Florida career as the school's all-time leader in passing yardage (11,213), completions (895) and attempts (1,458). He joins Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerrfel as the only Florida quarterbacks to lead their team to a national title.

He started in 47 of the 51 games he played in. He went 35-12 as a starter, including 10-8 against top 15 ranked opponents.

And still there are doubters.

San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Norv Turner isn't one them. As one of the coaches who will coach the South team — Leak's team — in the Senior Bowl, Turner is getting an up-close and personal experience with Leak.

After only two days of practice, he's come away impressed.

"I think Chris is a very, very athletic guy," said Turner, who also has been the head coach of the Washington Redskins and the Oakland Raiders.

"He's got a quick release. Someone said he can't drive the ball. He's got a very strong arm. He's been very accurate."

Nevertheless, NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said those characteristics will take Leak only so far.

"The one thing he can't change is his height," Mayock said.

"He's 5-foot-11 and 7/8, and that's never going to change. He's got to show people he can deal within the pocket, find the vision, get the ball out there vertically down the field. It's a hard thing to show when the bullets aren't live."

Mayock sees Leak as a second-day pick, going somewhere after the first three rounds.

"Whenever you take a roll call of starting quarterback in the NFL, the list of starting quarterbacks under 6-0 is zero," Mayock said.

But Leak has been here before. He's faced the negatives people throw at him and kept going.

Leak's resilience in the face of scrutiny, media pressure, and fan outrage gained the confidence and respect of his teammates.

Earning the MVP of the national championship game only furthered that.

"I was so happy for him, after hearing all the things that was said during the few years, and even up to the game," Florida receiver and Senior Bowl invitee Dallas Baker said.

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