The Monday before the Orange and Blue Debut Jim McElwain told reporters there had been some separation in the Florida Gators quarterback race. With Luke Del Rio sidelined this spring due to injury the battle came down to Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask.
The separation that McElwain eluded two was quickly apparent when Franks trotted out with the first team offense for the first series. Franks did this again three more times before McElwain and offensive Doug Nussmeier pulled their presumed starter, leaving the rest of the game in the hands of Trask and freshman Kadarius Toney.
“He’s ahead,” McElwain said when asked directly if Franks was the starter. “He played decent.”
Franks led Florida’s first team offense against its second team defense. Florida’s matchups, particularly with the skill position players, were heavily skewed in favor of the first team. Franks found C’yontai Lewis for five yards on his first pass attempt of the game, Brandon Powell for five more and a first down on the next snap and then launched a beautiful deep ball to Hammond down the home sideline for 46-yards. Quite a start for a guy that threw three interceptions the last time he played in a spring game.
“Completed a lot of passes, didn’t he,” McElwain joked about Franks’ three-interception spring game in 2016. “Dammit, just depends on how you count it right? He threw it to a Gator — three times I think.”
Franks and the Orange team finished the opening drive with a Jordan Scarlett touchdown. The Orange offense went through a quick three-and-out. Franks’ third drive was a of the13-play, 74-yard variety ending in three points. He went 3-for-6 on the drive for 45 yards. His final drive Franks found his best offensive weapon, Antonio Callaway. Florida’s second team, comprised of walk-ons and career backups, seemingly forgot Callaway was on the field and Franks hit him in the end zone for six. It’s amazing what a full year in a system and with the same coaching staff can do for a young quarterback.
“Compared to a year ago just getting in and learning the playbook it was hard for me,” Franks said after the game. “And with a year’s process of going through a season with Luke and Austin to help me learn and Coach Nuss it made me a whole lot more comfortable coming in to play today.”
The quarterback is even drawing admiration from his teammates on the other side of the ball.
“ He got the right reads, got the ball to the right guys, drove the ball down, converted on third down and made sure to keep the offense moving and keep them hot,” sophomore cornerback Chauncey Gardner said. “So he did pretty good to me. I didn’t see any flaws.”
There is still a long way to go before the Gators play Michigan this September, so McElwain still tried to keep his cards close to the vest. When pressed on how quarterbacks with seemingly similar skillsets are separating themselves, Mac pointed to Franks’ athleticism.
“His leadership style, being a young guy he’s really trying to come into that role and you can see him taking strides for it. He’s assertive in the huddle. He tells you the play, he tells you what he demands, communication, and I like that about him. There’s nothing he can’t do really.”
“I think his consistency. Probably a little bit of his escapability believe it or not, which helps,” he said of Franks. “He’s kind of a sneaky athlete. I thought that that was something that kind of helped him.”
His teammates see another side of the quarterback. One that looks them in the eye in the huddle and conveys confidence, someone who can at the same time calm them down when they need to focus as well as inspire them and exude strength and charisma.
“His leadership style, being a young guy he’s really trying to come into that role and you can see him taking strides for it,” junior offensive lineman Fred Johnson said of Franks. “He’s assertive in the huddle. He tells you the play, he tells you what he demands, communication, and I like that about him. There’s nothing he can’t do really.”
Franks walked the line after the Orange and Blue game. He knows that he can’t rest on McElwain saying he’s “ahead” right now. The race isn’t over. Florida is going into phase four of six for the offseason and there is a lot of time to go. He’s grown up a lot over the last year and his experiences redshirting have given him a more mature perspective and outlook on a team and program that could soon be his.
“I think Coach Mac and the offense in particular have one goal, and we’re striving for that. Be consistent in everything that we do on the field and treat each day like it’s a new day,” Franks said. “We can’t dwell on the past. I don’t try to separate my goals from anybody else’s on the team. We’re all headed for one goal. I think that’s a big thing that’s helped me.”