Linda and Darin Hays weren’t watching the Florida-Kentucky game very closely until they got a text from their daughter.
Did they see what just happened to quarterback Feleipe Franks?
“She sent us the replay,” Hays said. “It wasn’t pretty.”
Hays, like many Gators fans, had been frustrated with some of Franks’ throws over the years. The 49-year-old Wesley Chapel resident would armchair-quarterback his decisions and yell at the TV for coaches to get him off the field.
But when Franks fractured/dislocated his ankle that September night at Kroger Field, Hays felt awful. So she decided to do something about it: She sent him a card.
“I just felt like he needed some words of encouragement,” Hays said.
She wasn’t alone.
In the days after Franks’ injury, get-well-soon cards poured in from across the country. Gainesville. Jacksonville. The Panhandle. Georgia, Ohio, Colorado. A 77-year-old in Charlotte County and a 9-year-old from a cattle ranch in Kissimmee.
All to a quarterback who might never play another snap for the Gators, one whose relationship with the fan base has been mixed, at best.
“I know he takes a lot of heat from people thinking that he’s just the worst thing that ever happened to Florida,” said Woody Bass, a 48-year-old Georgia resident who will graduate from UF's online program in May. “I didn’t want him to think that.”
Neither did Laurie Bonham.
“I just felt so bad for him,” said Bonham, a recently retired 64-year-old in Oldsmar.
The physical injury was bad enough. But Franks has been a frequent target from fans for most of the past three seasons.
One of the lows came last November against Missouri, who hosts the Franks-less Gators this weekend. Franks was booed in the first half and benched in the second of a 38-17 embarrassing home loss to the Tigers.
Franks had won every game since then, but Bonham still saw too many people bashing him, despite the improvements he was making in Year 2 under coach Dan Mullen.
“His mom was on this web page, and I felt bad for her, too,” Bonham said. “Nobody needed to be doing that. It was just poor manners.”
Something good came from all the social media chatter: Bonham saw someone post a P.O. box that would collect mail for Franks.
Judy Long noticed, too. During her lunch break, the 59-year-old walked from her job at a community bank in Polk County to a Publix down the street to find a card — maybe something with flowers on it.
“I’m sure he was down and out,” said Long, a lifelong Florida fan. “A little card like that brightens someone’s day.”
Long wrote a note, too, promising to wave at him from the Section 55, Row 4 seats her family has held for almost four decades.
Reyce Ramsey went one step farther. With some help from his grandma, the 9-year-old from Kissimmee got a pen and paper and made something to send. He addressed the message to Mr. Felipe Franks #13.
“My whole life, I always wanted to be a quarterback at UF,” Ramsey said.
A few weeks later, he got to meet one again: Franks. They talked for a minute or two outside The Swamp before the Auburn game, and Franks posed for a picture on his scooter.
“It’s pretty awesome, getting to talk to him,” Ramsey said.
Hays also had a personal encounter with Franks, one that changed the way she felt about Florida’s lightning-rod passer.
As the Gators strolled from the bus to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium before the LSU game last year, Franks walked past — then turned around and backtracked 10 steps just to give Hays’ husband a high five. Hays, regrettably, couldn’t snap a photo of it fast enough.
“From that moment on,” Hays said, “you really couldn’t not like the guy.”
Hays was thinking about that 11 months later, as she wrote Franks a note in her thinking-of-you card. She told him not to give up. She told him to ignore the critics. She told him about the family in Wesley Chapel that still supports him, no matter what his future holds.
Maybe he turns pro in baseball. Or football. Or comes back for another year with the Gators.
No matter how many times she yelled at him in the past, Hays wants Franks to return to Gainesville. She told him that, too, and about the photo-less high five before LSU.
“Hopefully next year,” Hays said, “we’ll get that picture.”