Notebook: A homecoming for Trask

Oct 6, 2020 | 0 comments

A native of Manvel, Texas, in the Houston area, UF quarterback Kyle Trask grew up in a Texas A&M Aggies family. He estimates that more than half of his family went to college there.

How much of a hardcore fan are his parents? They named him Kyle after Kyle Field, the Aggies’ home stadium.

On Saturday, he’ll become quite possibly the first Gators football player to play in a stadium that he’s named after and maybe even the first in college football history.

Despite growing up only about two hours southeast of Texas A&M’s campus, the Aggies, like every other major program except for Florida, showed no interest in him as a high school recruit. He doesn’t hold a grudge against the Aggies but does use being overlooked as motivation every week.

“There’s always a chip on my shoulder just because … no one gave me a chance in recruiting,” Trask said. “So, I kind of just came in with a chip on my shoulder to whatever program I came into to just try to prove myself.”

While his family is full of Aggies fans, Trask said he was more of an NFL fan as a child and only attended one game at Kyle Field, Johnny Manziel’s final spring game in 2013. Still, this will be a big weekend for he and his family.

“A lot of excitement,” he said. “I’m definitely going to have to get a lot of tickets for this week for a lot of family making the drive up there. It will just be an exciting time to play against a team that I grew up watching.”

Killer instinct still evolving

As was the case after the South Carolina game on Saturday, the Gators put a large emphasis on finishing stronger during their time with the media on Monday.

Not counting three kneel-downs to end the game, the Gators ran seven plays for nine yards in the fourth quarter and threw an interception. The Gamecocks scored a touchdown after Trask’s interception and converted a pair of fourth downs to go on a seemingly never-ending 18-play, 74-yard march down to the UF 4-yard line before turning it over on downs.

“You're a stop or a score away really from the game being completely out of reach and a lot of backups even playing,” Mullen said. “We kind of started a little bit slow defensively, got into a rhythm and jumped out big and then kind of, instead of ‘Let's finish the game,' we just kind of cruised to the finish line. And we’ve got to get that that changed."

Trask said it was frustrating to see the offense put up 330 total yards and 38 points in the first 40 minutes of the game and accomplish nothing over the final 1 ½ quarters.

“We just got to do a better job of taking advantage of when we can close the game out like that,” Trask said. “If we go down and score another touchdown on those drives, the game's probably blown open with the rest of the team getting in to play. So, we just got to execute the little things and take advantage of situations like that.

"It was definitely more pressure [on the defense] than if we would have went down and scored. It would have been a lot less pressure on them. So, we can just do our part to take the game completely into our hands at the moment.”

Mullen said he believes the cutthroat mentality that is needed to blow games open is developed through competition in games, practices and offseason workouts. The elimination of spring practices and much of the summer program stunted that development. He expects them to get better at closing games out as they get into more of a game mindset.

“I just think it’s maybe a side effect of everything going on right now,” he said. “Just part of the whole deal. It’s something that we talked about this morning as a team. It comes from practice. It’s got to be addressed at practice. It’s got to be addressed on how we practice. It’s got to be addressed with every aspect and every member of the team, start to finish the effort we give and the looks we give, whether I’m on the scout team, whether I’m a backup or I’m a starter. It’s got to start at practice with just that mindset of complete while we’re playing. Everything we do, maximum effort to finish.”

Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said they showed the players film of the fourth quarter and discussed what went wrong. In that situation, gaining first downs and keeping the clock moving are more important than hitting explosive plays. He doesn’t think they managed that quarter very well, and that reflects on the coaches.

“The only thing that can mess up a game like that is to go three-and-out or continuously turn the football over,” Johnson said. “It just goes into teaching situational football, understanding what I need to do in order to manage the game, especially at the quarterback position, calling shots, managing shots. If the shot’s not there, check the ball down and understand that first downs will end the game. We got to do a better job of coaching that.”

Making the grade

Throughout his tenure at UF, Mullen has frequently alluded to players grading out as “champions” for their performances in games. However, he gave details on how the grading process works for the first time on Monday.

The position coaches grade the players and meet with the coordinators and Mullen to go over the film and the grades prior to presenting them to the players.

“On ours, you get an ‘S,’ you did the right thing; ‘minus,’ you did the wrong thing,” Mullen said. “You get a ‘plus,’ you did the right thing and something special beyond that. A ‘double-minus,’ you made a turnover or made a critical error. A ‘zero,’ you really had no effect on the play; you weren’t involved in the play in any way, shape or form. Then mathematically, we have the formula to kind of grade all that out. I’m not going to get into all the math on it right now. But essentially, if you grade 80 percent, you grade a ‘champion’ for us. We had a bunch of guys who graded out ‘champions’ for us this week.

“We figure if you grade 80 percent or above that’s a championship effort, or a ‘champion’ effort, a championship effort, so you grade a ‘champion.’ You’re on the board downstairs, you get recognized in front of the team, a ‘champion’ tag and all that stuff.”

Trask said he’s graded out as a “champion” around 10 times, and the tag they receive lists the opponent they played. It serves as a memento for a great performance.

Whittemore living out a childhood dream

One of the players who graded out as a “champion” for his performance against South Carolina is redshirt freshman receiver Trent Whittemore. The Gainesville native made a breathtaking, leaping catch between two defenders to set up the Gators’ second score of the game and caught his first career touchdown in the third quarter.

“It was super exciting, a really cool moment, especially to have my friends and family in the stands,” Whittemore said. “Just growing up in Gainesville, it’s something that I envisioned as a kid, so it was a super cool moment.”

Whittemore committed to UF as a sophomore when Jim McElwain was still the head coach. However, McElwain was fired, and Whittemore was briefly concerned that Mullen wouldn’t want him after he took the Florida job. He was the second-lowest ranked member of the 2019 class.

“There was definitely a little bit of time where maybe I was a little uncertain,” he said. “A lot was changing fast, but I ended up coming around the campus a good amount, being able to watch workouts and practices and establish a relationship with several of the coaches on the staff. They let it be known that they wanted me to keep my commitment on, and Florida was still where I wanted to be. So, that worked out well.”

Whittemore was a high school legend in North Central Florida. He played quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, safety and cornerback at various points for his father, Mark Whittemore, at Buchholz High School. He could dunk a basketball when he was in the eighth grade.

There were rumors that the Gators wanted him to play safety initially but decided to move him to receiver once they missed out on some other recruits at that position. Whittemore said the coaches told him they wanted him to play receiver after his senior year of high school. It looks like they made the right decision.

Whittemore said he didn’t care what position they wanted him to play, but he wanted an answer as soon as possible so he could prepare. After being informed that he would be playing receiver, he spent the summer prior to his freshman season going over some things with receivers coach Billy Gonzales.

He only played in two games as a true freshman in 2018 but is currently fourth on the team with five catches for 56 yards in 2020.

“He works, and he has an exceptional radius, great hands, great concentration,” Johnson said. “He can separate and get open. He’s everything you look for in terms of a wide receiver. All the confidence in the world in Trent. I was really proud of him to go out there and just play really consistent. He’s very sure-handed and a really good route-runner.”

Whittemore said the four senior receivers on last year’s team – Van Jefferson, Tyrie Cleveland, Freddie Swain, and Josh Hammond – served as great mentors for him.

“I’ve learned a lot from other receivers on the team, guys older than me,” he said. “Just doing your job every play, not trying to speed yourself up but just focusing on the task in front of you every play, and then, when the ball comes your way, look it in to the tuck and get upfield with it.

"I'd say one thing is just their demeanor that they had, both in practice and also on game day. Just the confidence they had and being loose at the same time. That ability to be able to enjoy what you're doing, but at the same time be laser-focused and execute at a really high level when you're out on the field. I think just kind of that quiet confidence that they had on the field is something I really take from them."

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