He’d be one of the first to admit it. When it was his time to get in and play during the 2016 Orange and Blue Debut his head was still spinning. The playbook, the new faces, everything about playing quarterback at this level was still overwhelming to Feleipe Franks.
Franks, a highly sought after recruit, threw three interceptions before fining C’yontai Lewis for the game’s final touchdown late in the fourth quarter. It was a disastrous introduction to a fan base that was eagerly anticipating its first glimpse at their freshman quarterback.
“I think it was a case of me just not coming in and getting comfortable with everybody,” Franks said. “We go back and watch the spring game, we watch everything after each practice. Watch it and learn from your mistakes and them move on.”
Franks isn’t that same quarterback that you last saw. The 6-foot-6 passer has dedicated himself in the weight room and the film room. The progression wasn’t immediate but Franks worked throughout the season and developed to the point where he was the backup to Austin Appleby when Luke Del Rio went down with an injury. The plan was always for Franks to redshirt, but there was a point in 2016 where fans were clamoring to see what the future of the team was and wanted Franks to get an opportunity to play. Ultimately the staff didn’t want to burn that redshirt. They saw the progression he was making and knew that a full year of development would be better for Franks’ future.
“A lot more confidence, a lot better understanding of just the passing game overall in general. There are high expectations on these kids when they come out of high school with the stars and rankings and those types of things,” Nussmeier said of Franks. “Some of them, depending of where they come from, their understanding of the concepts and the things that you’re trying to do in the passing game, others have been coached by quarterback coaches since they were young, others are athletes. There’s a different learning curve for each and Feleipe has done a great job of buying into what we’ve asked him to do and really improve in the classroom side of things.”
That mental part of the game, learning what his responsibilities were from play to play, what it meant to be a leader on the field was the biggest thing Franks needed to improve on. He’s physically capable.
“I definitely admire his cannon arm,” Trask said of Franks.
That arm strength is evident. The ball screams out of Franks’ hand like an Aroldis Chapman fastball barreling down on hitters. He’s still learning when he needs to throw a fastball and when he needs to take something off of it to give his receivers a more catchable football.
“He’s still a young player, he’s still a redshirt freshman. So, there’s all different kinds of things,” Nussmeier said of Franks. “He’s got great belief in his arm strengths. 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.”
Franks has been splitting reps with the first unit but, during the sections of practice open to the media, appears to have a light lead to earn the starting spot. That’s not to say that the competition is over or that Franks has the job locked up. He’s still working and competition every day with the knowledge that a bad week of practice might be all Trask needs to take over the top spot. It keeps him on his toes and keeps him working hard, striving to get better.
“I think I’ve come a long way. I think, my command has grown like a bunch since last spring,” he said. “It’s really playing out to be fun for me now just to be out there and actually just play the game, play what I’ve been playing my whole life and not have to stress about, ‘What am I doing this play? What am I doing this next play?’ Now that I’ve settled in and know the playbook I can go out there and have fun now. It’s really fun.”