Gator Nation had a bumpy relationship with Feleipe Franks when he was Florida’s starting quarterback from 2017 to early 2019, to put it mildly.
Franks is the type of player that wears his emotions on his sleeves; you can always tell exactly what he’s feeling. As such, he frequently drew attention to himself with his celebrations after big plays or wins and his acts of frustration when things didn’t go well. When things went well, the fans loved Franks’ emotional style and fed off of his energy. When things went south, Franks’ antics rubbed some people the wrong way.
Things reached a climax in 2018 when Franks was booed off the field against Missouri and Franks responded by shushing the crowd after scoring a touchdown the following week.
As Franks returned to the Swamp with his Arkansas team on Saturday night, it was quite apparent that the fans’ relationship with their quarterback had come a long way. When Franks ran onto the field for the first time, he was booed once more. Meanwhile, on several occasions in the second half of the No. 6 Gators’ 63-35 dismantling of Arkansas (3-4), the crowd of 16,116 chanted “Trask for Heisman.”
Those fans have a strong argument. Kyle Trask is doing things that nobody else in the history of the SEC has ever done on a weekly basis. Against the Razorbacks, he completed 23 of 29 passes for 356 yards with a career-high-tying six touchdowns. With the performance, he extended his conference record for most consecutive games with at least four touchdown passes to six games. He also became the first player in school history to have multiple six-touchdown games in a season.
“I think I just did a great job at being efficient and taking it one play at a time,” Trask said. “I also think our offense as an entire unit did a great job executing their 1/11th, doing their job every single play, and that’s why we had such success tonight.”
Trask’s 28 touchdown passes this season are just 11 away from Danny Wuerffel’s school record. He’ll almost certainly get that record, and he’ll do it in fewer games, against only league opponents and without much of an offseason to prepare.
While the statistics and records are impressive by themselves, it’s how he’s achieving them that truly stands out.
For example, in the second quarter, UF (5-1) coach Dan Mullen called a flea-flicker. However, running back Dameon Pierce’s toss back to Trask hit the ground. Trask calmly picked it up, realized he had receiver Xzavier Henderson wide open and delivered a strike for a 43-yard completion.
“They were bringing a blitz off the edge and kind of pushed the pocket back, and it wasn’t the greatest exchange between us,” Trask said. “We have to clean that up, obviously, but I picked it up, and I saw Xzavier Henderson had a step on [his defender]. I threw it as far I could flat-footed and see if he could make a play, and he did a great job.”
On the very next play, he fired a perfect pass to the corner of the end zone to a tightly covered Justin Shorter for a 21-yard touchdown.
Trask played with tremendous anticipation and deadly accuracy. He always seemed to know who was about to come open.
“Kyle Trask did a really good job distributing the ball, not getting panicky, taking what they were going to give us all night,” Mullen said. “They played a lot of dime, three-down, soft dime defense. That’s not where we’re going to get explosive play after explosive play. You’re going to have to kind of execute your way down the field, and we were able to do that most of the night.”
What Mullen liked best, however, was that his quarterback threw to the open receivers that the Razorbacks’ defense afforded them and didn’t try to force the ball to one or two players. Throughout the season, Trask has developed a special rapport with tight end Kyle Pitts and slot receiver Kadarius Toney. UF’s running backs also chipped in more than 200 receiving yards against Georgia last week. The Gators didn’t have Pitts due to a concussion, and Arkansas’ defense bottled up Toney and the running backs. So, Trask simply threw it to his outside receivers, who were given plenty of room to operate. Trevon Grimes led the way with six catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
“We’ve known this ever since fall camp about how many different weapons we have,” Trask said. “Even when we had Pitts in there, a lot of people like to double team and try to shut him down and leave other guys one-on-one, but this week, everybody did a great job stepping up, beating their matchups and making plays on the ball.”
Now back to that chant that echoed throughout the stadium. Every Heisman Trophy winner has to have one or more “Heisman moments” where he does something that we may never see again or leads his team to an improbable victory. If Trask goes on to win the coveted award and earn himself a statue outside of the stadium, the last two games will be looked at as his “Heisman moment.”
Against a Georgia defense that entered the game ranked third in the league in passing defense and a Arkansas defense that ranked second, Trask combined to throw for 830 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception. And he didn’t even play most of the fourth quarter against the Razorbacks.
Mullen said individual awards are usually a result of team success, so he isn’t interested in politicking for his quarterback. Still, he thinks Trask’s journey from high school backup to three-year college backup to a potential All-American serves as a great lesson for society at large.
“In high school, he probably could have transferred and done something, but he stuck it out with his team, helped his team and was really successful, got an opportunity to go to college,” Mullen said. “Really could have been a grad transfer for a year and stuck it out, and, all of a sudden, his number was called. You see he was completely prepared for the moment his number was called, and from that moment forth, he’s done nothing but work even harder, continue to prepare even more.
“And today’s world, you look at guys, you know, the transfer portal, it’s not going well, ‘I want to jump in the transfer portal in college football.’ But you look at life, ‘Oh, I want to quit. I want to leave. I want to try something new. I want to give up.’ Instead of ‘You know what? I’m going to continue to prepare because, when my moment comes, I’m going to be ready for that moment.’ If that’s not one of the greatest life lessons you could ever learn, I don’t know what is.”
Trask heard the “Trask for Heisman” chants but has no interest in discussing individual accolades. He just wants to do his part to help this team win games.
“Stats are cool, but we’re here to win games,” he said. “Whatever’s going to help us win games, that’s all I’m focused on. We’re here to win a national championship. That’s the team’s goal, just like a lot of other teams’ goal is a national championship. To do that, you have to do a great job at winning games. That’s all I’m focused on right now.”
That’s OK. Trask doesn’t need to campaign for the game’s most prestigious award. His fans will take care of that for him.
What a difference two years makes when it comes to Gators fans’ relationship with their quarterback.