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Leak and Independence were Record-setting North Carolina Footballers

By John Gillis on October 21, 2015 blog Print

From 2000 to 2007, the Charlotte (North Carolina) Independence High School football program won an amazing 109 consecutive games.

According to the NFHS’ National High School Sports Record Book, that ranks second all-time for 11-player football. The national record of 151 consecutive victories was set by Concord (California) De La Salle High School from 1992 to 2003.

Playing a major role in Independence’s success during the early years of the winning streak was Chris Leak, who was starting quarterback from 1999 to 2002.

Independence lost to Shelby Crest (North Carolina) High School, 34-31, on September 1, 2000. The Patriots didn’t taste defeat again until falling to Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder High School, 41-34, in overtime on September 13, 2007 in the Kirk Herbstreit Challenge in Cincinnati.

Along the way, Independence won seven consecutive North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) Class 4A state championships (the first team in state history to do so) and easily surpassed the former North Carolina state record for consecutive victories (46). In addition, the Patriots were ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press Class 4A rankings from the beginning of the 2001 season.

During his four years as the Patriots' starting quarterback, Leak led the program to three consecutive NCHSAA Class 4A state championships and lost only once as a starter under head coach Tom Knotts.

While at Independence, Knotts coached the Patriots to six state titles in seven years (in 2004, he returned to his alma mater, Duke University, to serve one season as quarterbacks coach), and was the architect of the long winning streak. During his first four seasons, Knotts led Independence to a 63-1 win-loss record and to four consecutive NCHSAA Class 4A state titles, including a 54-7 win over New Bern in the 2003 state final.

Kelly Lewis, who currently is the athletic director at Independence, was an assistant during Leak’s junior and senior seasons. Lewis left Independence in 2003 for his first athletic director job and then returned to Independence in 2004 as its athletic director.

“Chris was strictly business on the field - never raised his voice or yelled at his teammates,” Lewis said. “He led by example is the best way to describe his actions on and off the field. He never got caught up in the national spotlight, always thanked his offensive line and receivers, and had the strongest arm of any quarterback. Very humble. As an overall football player, he would rank No. 1.

“We were a spread offense with an empty backfield at times. Chris would lead the state in passing yardage and touchdowns every year. He rarely, if ever, had to tuck the ball and run. Chris obviously had a very strong arm, and could hit his receivers in full stride with little to no effort. He was amazing to watch.

“Chris was selected captain his sophomore through senior seasons. He led by example in everything he did. First on field, last off. Chris was a quiet person by nature, and never got too excited. He wouldn’t ask any person to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. He was also a leader in the weight room.

“Chris lost only one game from his sophomore through his senior years and broke every state record that existed. He also broke the national record for touchdowns and led the team to three straight state titles.

“The winning streak was not something we really thought about at the beginning. We just wanted to play hard and try to win each game. As it grew longer, it was in the back of everyone’s mind, but not spoken about much. Players were told to just take one game at a time and the rest will take care of itself. Reality may have sunk in when we broke the public school record of 71 wins I think. Then, once we got to 100, the local paper made a big deal out of it, and the cable channel did a small documentary about us. We wanted to do something bigger, but the district wouldn’t allow it. Now it was all that everyone talked about and we couldn’t get away from it. That’s when we wanted to break De La Salle’s record. It was awesome to be a part of something that can never be taken away from you that not a lot of people get to say they were part of either.”

Leak set North Carolina state records for passing yards in a career (15,593) and completions in a career (1,013) – the former ranking third nationally and the latter fourth nationally. In addition, his 185 touchdown passes in a career is a state record and ranks second nationally.

After his senior season, Leak was named a Parade magazine All-American and Player of the Year. According to Scout.com, Leak was ranked the third-best high school quarterback in the nation.

Chris Leak (far left) takes the field with his Charlotte Independence teammates

Following high school, the 6-0, 207-pound Leak attended the University of Florida. During his senior year, he led the Gators to their first SEC championship since 2000, and to their first national championship game appearance since 1996. In that game, Leak led Florida to a 41-14 victory over Ohio State, and was awarded the offensive Most Valuable Player for the game. Leak set many school passing records and was a two-time Second-Team All-SEC selection.

“I have so many memories from playing at the University of Florida,” Leak said. “There were a lot of expectations to win championships every year. We had 22 seniors on the 2007 national championship team. We all came in together as freshmen, set a mission to get Florida back to a national championship, and that’s what we did. It was mission accomplished, with a lot of hard work and dedication to it.”

After graduating from Florida, Leak played professionally for three Canadian Football League teams, as well as for the Jacksonville Sharks and the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League.

“With my older brother (C.J. Leak) playing quarterback before me at Independence, starting as a freshman was an expectation that I had,” Leak said. “I wanted to live up to those expectations and continue that great tradition.

“For us to win the NCHSAA state title not just one year, but three years in a row with the added pressure that goes with it shows the resiliency we had to do that - as well as the dedication of the parents, coaches and players.

“As far as the team itself, we had the hardest-working team in the state, and definitely one of the best high school teams in the country. We had a great group of guys – all of us very talented and everyone supported each other. We gelled very well as a team, everybody knew and understood their roles and did their jobs – similar to how the New England Patriots do today.

“Looking back on my high school career, I would have to say that my most memorable game was our 2000 NCHSAA quarterfinal game with Richmond County, which was ranked No. 4 in the nation at the time. We had to travel there, but we won in a big way. Richmond County was then and still is a highly respected program with a lot of high school all-Americans, and many players who went on to play in college and in the NFL. In my eyes, that win got us over the hump as being a nationally ranked program.

“Today, I am in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Football Development Department, where I pretty much manage our youth development programs and initiatives. We work with youngsters aged three to 18 with our junior player development program – anything from youth flag leagues, Bucs junior training camps, high school coach of the week program, high school athlete of the week program, etc.

“I have been blessed and fortunate to win a lot of championships. I have always been a believer in Christ and have always given the glory to God throughout my life.

“I met my wife Latria at the University of Florida. We have two daughters – Trinity, age five, and Destiny who had a Christmas Day birthday last year and is now nine months old. I am equally blessed to have them as my family.”