Gators QB Chris Leak: “I went out to be myself.”

One of the most accomplished signal callers in Florida Gators history, quarterback Chris Leak led the charge in Gainesville, FL from 2003-06, a career that spanned two head coaches, three offensive coordinators and plenty of ups and downs for the team.

A four-year student-athlete, Leak started nine games as a true freshman in 2003 (racking up a 6-3 record) and made 47-straight starts to end his career with a 35-12 record as a starter, playing in all 51 games in which he was eligible. He compiled 11,213 yards, 88 touchdowns (adding 13 additional scores on the ground) and 42 interceptions while completing 61.4 percent of his passes,

With the 2006 Southeastern Conference Championship and 2007 BCS National Championship titles under his belt, Leak was also named SEC Freshman of the Year in 2003, SEC Player of the Week (four times), National Quarterback of the Year in 2006, and Most Valuable Player of the 2007 BCS Championship, all while being a four-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll.

He bested Danny Wuerffel, Shane Matthews and Rex Grossman to own school records for career pass attempts (1,458), completions (895) and yardage (11,213); boasts the third-best career completion percentage in school history (behind Tim Tebow and Wayne Peace); has the second-most passing touchdowns at Florida (88, tied with Tebow); and holds the Gators’ record for consecutive completions (17 vs. Wyoming in 2005).

Leak has also seen the field for the second-most plays at UF (1,636) and totaled the second-most combined yardage (11,350), falling only behind Tebow in both categories.

After bouncing around the NFL and spending most of four seasons playing in the CFL, where Leak won a pair of Grey Cups with Montreal, he spent last season playing mostly for Orlando of the AFL and expects to return to the team next year. He is also currently working as a broadcaster with SiriusXM College Sports Nation and CBS Sports Network.

Leak sat down with OGGOA for 45 minutes last month for a wide-ranging two-part interview that encompasses his recruitment, career with the Gators, thoughts on his coaches, professional career and aspirations for Florida going forward.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: So let’s jump back to the beginning and start with your recruitment. I know a lot of people always assumed you would wind up at Tennessee because of your brother. Was that truly the case for a while? And as the process broke down, what made you wind up choosing Florida in the long run?
CHRIS LEAK: “I started off at an early age being offered in eighth grade by Jim Caldwell at Wake Forest; he was the head coach at the time. So I got started pretty early. I saw my brother, who back in 1998 was the No. 1 run-pass quarterback in the country…I got to see him go through the heavy recruiting process as well. Recruiting started off for me at a very early age. My parents did a great job of managing it for me, my meetings with coaches, school visits – unofficial and official visits. Tennessee was the leader because my brother was there after he transferred from Wake Forest. I wanted to have his mentorship during my time in school. That was kind of the plan.

“I felt like, with Tennessee, after what happened with my brother in the Georgia game, I just felt like my heart wasn’t in it. [His brother, C.J. Leak, was promised a chance to start when he transferred to UT. When Casey Clausen got injured in the game, he was given two series before being pulled.] It was a trust factor and I wanted to commit somewhere where I felt like I could trust the coaches to take care of my future, take care of me while I’m there as I’m away from home. It would have to help me obviously get a good education and do everything I want to accomplish at the collegiate level.

“I was going to go through the recruiting process anyway, the full recruiting process. Though Tennessee was the leader, Florida was always a close second. My parents told me they wanted me to go through the entire recruiting process to make sure that I am sure and that Tennessee was the right fit for me. Obviously as I went through the recruiting process and went on my official visits, I just felt like Florida felt more like a home away from home for me. I just felt like, when I visited the campus when Florida played Auburn back in 2002, a game which they won in overtime, it just kind of hit home. I really felt the love from the fans and the coaches. Ron Zook, I really felt like I could trust him with my future as well as the rest of the coaching staff moving forward.”

Read the rest of OGGOA’s exclusive interview with Chris Leak…after the break!
Continue Reading » Gators QB Chris Leak: “I went out to be myself.”

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TWO BITS: Meyer and Tebow, Floyd and Elam

1 » Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer and former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow went out for dinner in Morristown, NJ recently in a sit down that was reportedly not completely focused on trading stories and favorite bible verses. According to the New York Post, Meyer “pitched Tebow on the idea of helping him recruit for the Buckeyes” while the player “focused on the food, even picking at Meyer’s meal of [pappardelle] after having plowed through his own.” It should be noted that the Post’s story is primarily focused on how Tebow consumed “four heaping plates of food during a single meal” and not the topic of conversation between the two diners.

2 » With the Gators now at 3-0 and 2-0 in SEC play, NFL analysts are beginning pay extra attention to some of Florida’s most talented players. In the latest editions of their Big Board and Top 32, respectively, Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay each listed one UF player as talented enough to be selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Kiper placed junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd at No. 20 on his Big Board ($), noting that “his quickness is more menacing on the interior and he has a great burst, drawing double-teams and penetrating.” McShay entered junior safety Matt Elam at No. 27 on his list of the Top 32 ($), saying that “he’s simply playing too well to be kept out of the rankings.” He continued: “He’s solid in run support and coverage, and always seems to be around the ball, like when he was making 10 tackles last week against Tennessee.”

Two five-star recruits for the Gators in 2010, Floyd and Elam receiving recognition and interest at this point is not surprising. It has long been believed that both players could leave the team early though a source close to Elam’s family told OGGOA last week that Abe Elam, Matt’s brother and a seven-year NFL veteran currently playing for Kansas City, would only allow Matt to depart if he is a sure-fire first-round selection.

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Hammond’s consistency, Burton’s versatility important for Florida Gators in 2012

For a team desperately in need of offensive playmakers, redshirt senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. and junior do-everything Trey Burton could fill a major void for the Florida Gators in 2012.

The duo combined for just 455 yards of offense and four touchdowns (all from Burton) in 2011 but have both been singled out by head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease for the positives they respectively bring to the table.

Hammond has made great strides with consistency in his performances, something Muschamp in particular has noticed as of late.

“Everyone looks at vertical plays down the field – and that’s great – but you got to be able to block. You got to be able to make the tough catches across the middle. You got to know your assignments and understand the timing and the different things in the throwing game,” he said Monday, noting that Hammond does all of those things.

“He’s a guy that’s an experienced player. He’s a guy that brings that to the table as well. I think he has really tried to step up as far as in that [wide receiver] room is concerned for some of the younger players. I think it has been really good for him and them.”

Hammond was pleased to hear that the coaching staff has noticed the one area of his game in which he worked so hard to improve in the offseason.

“It’s very good, just knowing that that’s one of the things I try to focus on, just being consistent. I don’t want to be one of those guys that is up-and-down, make a good play, make a bad play,” he said. “As a receiver you want to be consistent because you develop the trust in the quarterbacks, knowing that when they throw the ball most of the time you’re going to come down with it.”

With four months remaining in his college football career, Hammond realizes that now is the time for him to take that next step and translate his talents to the field.

Read the rest of this story…after the break!
Continue Reading » Hammond’s consistency, Burton’s versatility important for Florida Gators in 2012

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Gators soccer notches upset, volleyball sweeps

Florida Gators soccer, coming off a disappointing loss to open the season that dropped the team out of the top 25, rebounded in a major way over the weekend while playing a pair of matches on the road in Chapel Hill, NC.

After fighting tooth-and-nail with the No. 19 North Carolina Tar Heels (0-1-1) on Friday in what would ultimately end up as a scoreless draw following two overtimes, Florida (1-1-1) came back from two goals down to pull off an impressive 3-2 upset of the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils (3-1) in overtime on Sunday.

The Gators trailed by two goals early in the contest, allowing Blue Devils midfielder Gilda Doria (10’) and Cassie Pecht (29’) to find the back of the net. Florida would cut their deficit in half just 10 minutes later as sophomore forward Jillian Graff kicked in a pass from sophomore midfielder Havana Solaun at 39’.

UF knotted the match at 65’ thanks to a bit of luck after a corner kick by senior MF/F Erika Tymrak deflected off a Duke player and was scored as an own goal.

The two teams held even through the end of regulation, but the Gators would come out on top just minutes into extra time when Tyrak once again came through in the clutch by booing the golden goal off a pass from redshirt senior F/MF McKenzie Barney.

Florida is now riding a wave of momentum into Friday’s road match against No. 3 Florida State, which is set to air at 7 p.m. live on The Gators will follow that up with two home games before beginning league play on Sept. 14.

No. 18 Florida volleyball (3-0) may not have had been faced with the same challenges that their soccer counterparts were, but the Gators were equally impressive while hosting the Campus USA Credit Union Invitational from Aug. 24-25 in Gainesville, FL.

The Gators swept all three of their weekend opponents, picking up consecutive 3-0 victories over the Florida International Panthers (0-1), Florida A&M Rattlers (0-2) and Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (2-1) over the course of two days.

Junior middle back Chloe Mann (42 kills, 48 points) led the way for Florida with averages of 14 kills and 16 points over the three contests. Joining her with impressive performances of their own were freshman outside hitters Ziva Recek (29 kills, 30 points) and Berkley Whaley (21 kills, 27.5 points).

Gigi Meyer, the daughter of former UF head coach Urban Meyer and a member of the FGCU volleyball team, competed in the event as well. She registered 60 assists over her team’s three matches (10 against Florida).

Next up for the Gators is the Nike Big Four Classic from Aug. 31-Sept. 1 in University Park, PA. Florida will take on No. 2 Texas and No. 6 Stanford in the two-day event.

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FOUR BITS: Patriots, WWE, Fallon, Tebow

1 » New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, whose team now has six former Florida Gators on its roster after signing running back Jeff Demps last week, explained Thursday why he has picked up so many players from the team over the years.

Via the Boston Herald.

“First of all, obviously, Florida has a lot of good football players. It’s a great football state. The University of Florida has great athletes and great players at their school, as do a lot of the other Florida schools. I had a good relationship with Coach [Urban] Meyer, as I do with Coach [Will] Muschamp, so maybe we had a little more insight or opportunity to evaluate or whatever. And we felt like those particular players that we drafted there fit our system and what we were doing. Now, not everybody worked out. Some worked out better than others. But that particular class — the [Jermaine] Cunningham, [Brandon] Spikes, [Tim] Tebow, [Aaron] Hernandez, [Percy] Harvin the year before that, [David] Nelson, the receiver [Riley] Cooper — those guys in those couple years there. For whatever reason, [Meyer] asked me to speak at a clinic. Charlie [Weis] was there last year.

“So I just had a little more opportunity to interact with those players in that school, and they were available at the particular times that we were drafting and so forth. Some of it was coincidence. Some of it was maybe a little more homework in a player like Aaron Hernandez, that talent-wise obviously should have been drafted a little higher than what he was, but we were comfortable with Aaron and taking him the time we did. That’s worked out pretty well for us, so sometimes that little bit extra getting to know the player, the person and so forth can come into play. You never know in the draft process. You just never know how it’s going to go.

“Certainly, coincidence is a part of it. Demps, we didn’t really — the guy was running track, so the way it turned out this year, a lot of that was coincidence. It wasn’t that big of a plan, but we’re happy we have the opportunity to work with Jeff and see how it goes.”

2 » On the latest edition of the WWE’s YouTube program Outside the Ring, former Florida defensive end Thaddeus Bullard (known by his wrestling name of Titus O’Neil, one half of The Prime Time Players) takes tag team partner Darren Young on a tour of UF. The duo check out some major sites on campus, visit the athletic facilities, meet with Muschamp and Billy Donovan and do some Gator Chomps along the way.

3 » Model-turned-television host Tyra Banks was a guest on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on Tuesday and participated in a skit called Brainstorm in which one person (Banks) gives an answer and another (Fallon) provides the humorous question afterward. The first two answer-question segments on the skit had to do with former Gators, namely Tebow and Olympian Ryan Lochte.

4 » Speaking of Tebow, he was a guest on the WFAN radio show co-hosted by former New York Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason on Thursday but did not get the verbal beat down in person that Esiason has previously provided him with over the airwaves. Esiason previously said that, if he were a member of the Jets front office, he would cut Tebow because he does not benefit the team in any way. On Thursday, however, he was mostly complimentary of Tebow while lobbing him some softball questions that the player, of course, knocked out of the park.

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Meyer’s motivation, priorities changed at Florida

In a feature written by Wright Thompson for ESPN The Magazine centered on new Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer’s ability to focus on his health and family while simultaneously trying to rebuild another top-tier college football program, a number of interesting notes about his time with the Florida Gators are revealed.

While most of Meyer’s story at Florida has been divulged over the past year through stories and a video series produced by Sports Illustrated, the notes below provide greater detail into some of the issues he faced while with the Gators.

» Following the 2007 season, which was marked by four losses (including in bowl game) and quarterback Tim Tebow winning the Heisman Trophy, Meyer “confided to a friend that anxiety was taking over his life and he wanted to walk away.”

» After winning the 2009 BCS National Championship, Meyer ran off the field with the trophy “and locked himself in the coaches’ locker room. He began calling recruits as his assistants pounded on the door, asking if everything was okay.”

» Meyer became a maniacal perfectionist: “He lost even when they won, raging at his coaches and players for mistakes, demanding emergency staff meetings in the middle of the night. He stopped smiling. Days ended later and later. He texted recruits in church. He ignored his children, his fears realized: He’d become That Guy.”

» The DUI arrest of defensive end Carlos Dunlap four days before the 2009 SEC Championship started a “downward spiral” for Meyer. “After the campus police officer delivered the news about Dunlap, Meyer went to the office, overcome, driving in the dark. That week, everything came apart.”

» Meyer was consumed with going undefeated with the Gators. “All of a sudden, every step, every time I had a cup of coffee, every time I woke up in the morning and shaved, it was all about shomehow getting a team to go undefeated at Florida,” he said.

» Meyer admits that his priorities changed in his final years with the Gators. While on the phone with a coach who was asking his advice about what to do in regards to a troubled player, Meyer says he would have expelled the player when he was at Bowling Green but at the end of his tenure at Florida probably would have kept him in the fold.

Thompson goes into greater detail on Meyer’s life, transition out of and back into the coaching profession and how he is balancing his life these days, so be sure to check out the entire feature if you wish to read more.

Photo Credit: ESPN

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OGGOA Week(end) in Review: July 26-29

Considering so much has gone on over the last few days in regards to the Florida Gators, the OGGOA Week In Review returns for its third edition. (Yes, it is just covering a four-day period, but let’s just all agree to ignore that.) Be sure to check out all of the posts in case you happened to miss a thing or two.

» The day before Friday Night Lights was set to commence, Florida received a commitment from 2013 defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III (Tampa, FL), who vaulted the program five spots from 10th to 5th in the Rivals team recruiting rankings and immediately became the Gators’ highest-rated player of the cycle.

» Florida doubled up on commitments before FNL even began as three-star defensive end Antonio Riles (Lawrenceville, GA) chose UF over Georgia and committed even though he could not make it to campus for the event.

» There were rumblings all week that the Gators would receive a commitment from another highly-rated defensive prospect, but FNL came and went without him announcing his pledge. Four-star DE Jordan Sherit (Tampa, FL) remained in Gainesville, FL on Saturday, however, and made his verbal commitment public.

» Florida received its fourth commitment in as many days on Sunday when 2014 defensive tackle Travonte Valentine (Palm Bay, FL), expected to be one of the top players at his position when recruiting rankings are released for his class, ended his recruitment early and decided that he wanted to play for the Gators, too.

» More rumblings on Sunday indicated that Florida could go five-for-five in commitments and bring in a talented but underrated offensive playmaker on Monday though it remains to be seen if head coach Will Muschamp will give him a commitable offer and the opportunity to join the Gators.

OGGOA has been offering full coverage of the Olympics all event long on this dedicated page, which includes a Gator Nation vs. The World medal count, daily schedule and direct LIVE streaming links to each event as it takes place. Below are some notes in case you have not visited it yet and want a quick refresher.

» Ryan Lochte (United States) won two medals over the weekend including a gold in the Men’s 400 Meter Individual Medley, the fourth such medal of his Olympic career. Lochte also swam the final leg of the Men’s 4×100 Meter Freestyle Relay but got caught from behind over the final 50 meters; the team finished with a silver. He will compete in the Men’s 200 Meter Freestyle finals on Monday afternoon.

» Junior Elizabeth Beisel (United States) took silver in the Women’s 400 Meter Individual Medley, the first Olympic medal of her young career. She nearly won the gold but was bested over the last 150 meters.

» Thirteen other Gators (as well as one incoming freshman) competed in Olympic action over the four-day span though none of them were able to join Lochte and Beisel in bringing home medals as of yet. Striker Abby Wambach was dominant once again in soccer and got a black eye in her match on Saturday, though she scored a goal in retaliation and mocked her assailant during her celebration.

» “Gator Nation” is currently eighth in the Olympic medal standings with one gold and two silver. You can view the full medal breakdown on OGGOA‘s dedicated Olympics page.

» Florida quarterback Shane Matthews praised Muschamp and the current Gators coaching staff while noting that he was frustrated with the way former head coach Urban Meyer and his staff developed play callers and recruited in his waning years.

» Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah said he definitely had more fun at Florida than QB Tim Tebow did and provided an interesting answer when he was asked how much class he attended during his junior season when he was helping the Gators win the second of their back-to-back basketball national championships.

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Matthews thrilled with Gators coaching staff

Former Florida Gators quarterback Shane Matthews has been quite vocal about his displeasure with his college team over the last few years, so much so in fact that it even earned him a spot (at least temporarily) in head coach Urban Meyer’s doghouse.

With Meyer now at Ohio State and head coach Will Muschamp at the helm in Gainesville, FL, Matthews told host Dan Hicken of Sports Radio 1010XL in Jacksonville that he sees a bright future ahead for his Gators.

“This coaching staff at Florida is the best we’ve ever had at that school – hands down from top-to-bottom – when you go from position-to-position and see where they’ve coached, what they’ve done,” he said. “I love the staff. It’s going to take time because we just don’t have the athletes that the other big boys in the conference do.”

Matthews, who took over as head coach of Nease High School in January, said his appreciation for the coaching staff begins at the top with Muschamp.

“I love him. I love him. I’ve known him for a long time,” he said. “I played for Nick Saban. His last year [2006] at Miami was my last year [in the NFL]. [Muschamp is] a combination of a little bit of [Steve] Spurrier and a lot of Nick Saban. I like the guy. He was dealt a bad deck of cards. I don’t think people realize how bad that situation is and was.”

Though Florida has brought in highly-ranked recruiting classes over the last few years, Matthews believes Meyer and company failed in their talent evaluations and relied on speed more than overall football talent toward the end of his tenure.

“We ain’t put anybody in the league the last couple of years, so that shows you how we were recruiting. They missed big-time,” he said. “We had a track team, which track teams don’t play on Sunday. You better run like a track player but be able to play football.”

Muschamp’s rocky first season as the man in charge of the Gators may be in the rearview mirror, but Matthews does not believe the coach is out of the woods yet. He said that Muschamp has plenty of tough decisions ahead of him starting with who he will name as Florida’s starting quarterback in September.

Read the rest of Matthews’s thoughts on the Gators…after the break!
Continue Reading » Matthews thrilled with Gators coaching staff

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