Columbia, SC — When Feleipe Franks took over for an injured Malik Zaire and took a big shot on his first drive fans started to wonder, if Franks were to go down who would play quarterback.
The answer is Nick Sproles, a walk on from Winter Park, Florida. Sproles, who wears an odd number (42) for a quarterback, would have been the next man up if Franks were to have gone down with an injury.
“Yeah,” Franks said shaking his head after the game when asked about it. “I didn’t think about that. I don’t know.”
It’s not just at quarterback. Yes, Florida has had to use three starters this season. Luke Del Rio is done for the year with a broken collarbone and Zaire’s status is unknown, but Florida has been impeded by injuries all over the board.
When the final whistle blew on Saturday the Gators were playing with 53 healthy scholarship players. The Southeastern Conference allows road teams to travel and dress 70 players. The Gators couldn’t even do that if they wanted to.
“I feel like people didn’t realize, not making any excuses, but before the season we lost our two best offensive guys,” starting linebacker David Reese said. “We lost a lot of numbers. We lost a lot of guys that could have been key pieces to this team.”
Reese was referring to running back Jordan Scarlett and receiver Antonio Callaway. They’re not injured but have been suspended the entire season. Florida has nine players, three of which would have been starters or key contributors.
Football is a violent game and injuries are a part of that but Florida has had more than its fair share of injuries. The season started ominously with starting safety Marcell tearing his Achilles tendon during a workout. Then nine suspensions and Florida was already playing with 74 scholarship players rather than the 84 they should have been.
Then Nick Washington goes down. Luke Del Rio, Malik Davis, Quincy Lenton, Kylan Johnson, Brett Heggie and James Robinson all get added to the list. At some point, the missing players become a mountain that you can’t overcome.
Florida won’t lean on that as a crutch but it’s a matter of fact point.
“You have to coach them up and get those guys to play at a high level. So when you have injuries like that, you’ve got to believe in them and trust them,” Randy Shannon said. “You’ve got to make sure that the guys believe you that they can do it. If you treat a guy like he’s a first rounder and an All-Pro, he’ll be that. If you treat a guy like he can’t get it done, he’ll become that. And we won’t do that at Florida. We treat everybody at a high level and with high respect. We make them feel like they’re the best guy on the field.”
Shannon also offered a potential plan at quarterback if Franks were to go down, which included a surprise.
“We’ve got some walk-ons on the deal and Dre Massey, believe it or not, played some quarterback in high school and he’s done some wildcat. We worked him at quarterback last week,” said Shannon. “It’s not going to be (asking him) to drop back and throw the ball 34 times. We’ve got to use what he can do, if that happens to come to that situation.”