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Impassive to impassioned

Stoic QB Chris Leak lets his emotions show after rallying the Gators in the fourth quarter.

BRIAN SHAFFER
Published September 28, 2003

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Chris Leak has been uncommonly cool, calm and collected since the day he arrived on the Florida campus.

He stays in his dorm room to study film instead of going out to socialize. He has remained in his shell for three months.

But the shell has begun to crack.

On Saturday, in his first collegiate start and on the road, Leak threw a touchdown to bring his team within five points, then celebrated like Gator Nation did not know he could.

The freshman from Charlotte, N.C., leaped and bounded around the 20-yard line sporting a wide, toothy smile after whipping a 10-yarder to receiver Carlos Perez.

"He graduated in this game," center Mike Degory said. "He played like a senior. He might have struggled early, but we all did."

At halftime, Leak had completed 7-of-15 for 121 yards and one interception. His team trailed 14-3.

Even coach Ron Zook's emotional halftime speech did not get Leak turned around for the third quarter.

Leak was without a touchdown through three quarters and his team trailed by 18.

"I just wanted to keep playing hard," Leak said, "and I knew good things would happen."

Though he went 4-of-8 in the fourth, two completions resulted in two touchdowns. He added a 2-point conversion to Kelvin Kight to finish scoring for Florida.

It was during the decisive fourth quarter that the reserved Leak began to let his emotions show.

"Chris has always been a quiet type dude," tight end Ben Troupe said. "But to see him jumping around out there, it shows us that he really wants to win. This team is not about individual accolades, it's about winning."

Zook, who said he never thought about replacing Leak with former starter Ingle Martin, was criticized for a conservative offense. But with Leak under center, the Gators tried to stretch the defense and take shots down field.

This time it was his quarterback who played conservative early.

"There were a lot of times when (Leak) checked down when the deep stuff was open," Zook said. "There were also a couple of times when he scrambled that he didn't have to."

But in the end Leak came out with a win and support of the team.

"He has 100 guys on that sideline who believe in him," Troupe said.

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