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Published: 12/14/2006

Leak hangs tough as Gators' QB

Leak Leak
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In four topsy-turvy seasons as Florida's starting quarterback, Chris Leak has needed a thick, tough hide to survive.

But he's proven to be one tough Gator.

Leak has had to endure three offensive coordinators and two head coaches during his tenure in Gainesville.

And this year, he was forced to surrender some of his snaps to freshman Tim Tebow, who is primarily a running quarterback.

Yet Leak has overcome all the obstacles and potential roadblocks that have been thrown at him.

He will make his final start - the 47th of his career - for the Gators (12-1) on Jan. 8 against top-ranked Ohio State (12-0) in the national championship game in Glendale, Ariz.

Leak will lug a 34-12 record into his much-ballyhooed matchup with Heisman winner Troy Smith in the desert.

"My main focus is to try and prepare for the game the best I can," Leak said. "How can I help my team win? That's how I've always looked at it in my four years at Florida."

Leak earned his first ring at Florida 12 days ago, leading the Gators past Arkansas for their first Southeastern Conference championship since 2000.

That solidified his spot as one of the Gators' top five quarterbacks of all-time. He joined Shane Matthews, who led the Gators to their first SEC championship in 1991; Danny Wuerffel, who won four titles from 1993-96 and the national championship as a senior; Rex Grossman, who captured the 2000 SEC crown, and Steve Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman winner and school's coach from 1990-2001.

Smith, meanwhile, has proven over and over that he is a prime-time performer in big games.

He finished his career 3-0 against Michigan, and is 25-2 as the Buckeyes' starter.

Smith, the most versatile quarterback in school history, had no real challenger in his landslide Heisman victory.

From afar, Leak has admired his counterpart's incredible season.

"Just the way he handles himself, the way he always gives credit to his teammates, the way he is accountable to his teammates, his family and his coaches, is the mark of a very mature young man," Leak said. "I think the Heisman Trophy was well-deserved for him.

"He's very talented and very humble, and I think he's done an excellent job."

Of the last five Heisman winners who have played for the national title, only USC's Matt Leinart (2004) was successful in winning a national championship in the same season.

But Smith doesn't buy into the Heisman hangover, brushing aside the question like he would a soft pass rusher.

"I don't buy into superstitions or premonitions, those things aren't me," he said.

Just like Smith, Leak has proven to be unselfish.

The 6-foot, 207-pound senior has had to watch from the sideline while Tebow runs coach Urban Meyer's offense in short-yardage situations, but Leak has excelled when he's on the field.

He has thrown for 2,729 yards and 22 touchdowns and directed game-winning, fourth-quarter drives against Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida State.

Tebow has made a handful of highlight-reel plays, and is the team's second-leading rusher with 430 yards and seven touchdowns.

The two-quarterback system has worked well.

It has been a good change of pace.

Leak and the Gators plan to use the same attack against Ohio State's defense.

But that still may not be enough to take a bite out of the Buckeyes.



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