By age five Chris was cupping the laces just like his big brother—"that's always been Chris's best quality, how observant he is," says C.J., 22—and throwing tidy spirals. At nine Chris entered the league's punt, pass and kick contest. When his age group was called, Chris stepped up first and chucked the ball 42 yards. He won by default: No one wanted to go next.
When Penn State's Joe Paterno and Florida State's Bobby Bowden paid recruiting visits to C.J., Chris sat next to his brother and listened to the pitches. And when Wake Forest signed C.J. in '99, the school also offered a scholarship to Chris, who was then an eighth-grader. Soon, though, Chris had more offers than he knew what to do with: He started all four years at Independence High, finishing with 185 TD passes, a national high school record, and was the most highly sought recruit in the country.
When Curtis received a FedExed memo from Zook outlining how he intended to use Chris in the Gators' spread offense, the Leaks decided that Gainesville was Chris's best shot to play immediately. (His commitment announcement, made at halftime of the 2003 high school Ail-American Bowl, was televised nationally.) He didn't have enough credits to graduate from high school early and enroll at Florida last spring, but at his own expense he regularly hopped flights to Gainesville, sitting in on meetings and standing next to huddles in his street clothes at spring practice to study the Gators' offense up close. "That was all Chris," says Curtis. "He knew that if he was going to start, he would have to understand the game plan and get to know the guys."
Leak's dedication is becoming Gators lore. One story describes how this summer a fetching female student came by the football dorm to visit Florida's new quarterback. Leak, who was engrossed in game tape, made it clear he was otherwise occupied. His brother's response didn't surprise C.J. "That's Chris," he says. "Make fun all you want, but he's doing something right."
Leak's development this season has coincided with his team's. Against Miami he threw an interception in the final minute, which killed Florida's last chance. Eight weeks later against Georgia, with the game tied at 13 with 3:49 to play, Leak connected with three receivers during a 66-yard drive that set up the winning field goal. Teammates are even beginning to see the lighter side of Leak, the kid who makes goofy faces in team meetings and unwinds by watching morning cartoons. "Chris isn't as uptight as he used to be," says freshman receiver Andre Caldwell. "He's starting to adjust to college life and letting his confidence take over."
That was evident after last Saturday's 35-17 win over Vanderbilt, in which Leak threw for 179 yards and rushed for a TD. Zook described Leak's nearly flawless first half as "the sharpest Chris has looked this year." When pressed about two second-half interceptions, the freshman didn't hang his head or talk about what could have been. "I'm just going to keep on learning," he said, "and keep giving 100 percent."