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What's a little Florida QB battle among friends?

Florida redshirt freshmen Kyle Trask, left, and Feleipe Franks have different strengths at quarterback.
Florida redshirt freshmen Kyle Trask, left, and Feleipe Franks have different strengths at quarterback.
Published Mar. 23, 2017

GAINESVILLE — When Florida opened spring football practice Wednesday, quarterback Feleipe Franks stood at the forefront. He was leading stretches, barking encouragement, firing up his teammates.

But will he still be that way Sept. 2, when the Gators open the regular season against Michigan?

Midway through spring ball, the starting quarterback battle between Franks and Kyle Trask is ongoing. And as much as UF would like to find its long-term answer at quarterback, the uncertainty might not be a bad thing.

"I don't think any quarterback you would ask, they would want the job handed to them," Franks said. "It's only going to make them better with competition."

Trask knows this from experience. He was a high school backup to current Houston receiver D'Eriq King in Manvel, Texas. The competition pushed him to grow from a quarterback with three Division I-AA offers into one challenging to become a starter in the SEC.

"I think I just kind of took that as a blessing," Trask said. "It taught me to never take a rep off, make every rep count. I'm always in a competition."

The redshirt freshmen have such different strengths.

Trask is big (6 feet 4, 238 pounds) and accurate, but his relative inexperience shows at times. He has fumbled snaps and can admittedly take too long to throw the ball or find the right target.

Franks has the opposite problem: He trusts his powerful arm too much.

"He's got great belief in his arm strengths," offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. "At times, we've got to teach him that you can't make every throw and sometimes you can't throw it through three guys."

That was obvious in last year's spring game, the only extended look anyone outside UF has had of Franks. The 6-6, 219-pound Crawfordville native forced throws. He was intercepted three times in his first three drives (one was returned for a touchdown).

That's why Nussmeier praised Franks after one play Wednesday for doing nothing; he held the ball instead of forcing a throw that wasn't open. For a player with zero college snaps, that's progress.

Some of the growth comes from a second spring in the system, but some of it can be attributed to the off-the-field friendship Trask and Franks have formed. They play basketball (they're both shooters) and pingpong (Franks' game of choice). That relationship helps their on-field preparation.

"It's not what people make it to be — hatred," Franks said. "It's a friendship that could possibly last for a lifetime."

But it's also a relationship that will eventually be tested. At some point, coach Jim McElwain will try to settle on one starter.

Franks has spent most of his time with the first team during the open portions of practice. Trask might not be far behind. Coaches insist redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio will be in the mix in the fall, too, though he's missing spring practice to recover from offseason surgeries on both shoulders.

Regardless of which quarterback earns the job, the Gators' recent history shows how important it is for Franks and Trask to maintain a strong working relationship beyond film study. Florida's backup has played at least three games each of the past three seasons, whether the starter was benched (Jeff Driskel), suspended (Will Grier) or injured (Del Rio). Trask and Franks saw it firsthand last year when Del Rio and Austin Appleby contributed to a 9-4 season.

"We haven't had any tension," Trask said.

Only tightness, which the Gators hope could propel them to another SEC East title.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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