It is a tad bit early to say Feleipe Franks is a changed man and will lead the Florida Gators to greatness in 2018, but Saturday was at least a start.
He completed 16-of-24 passes for 219 yards and five touchdowns in just one half of play, which is more than half as many total touchdown passes as he threw a season ago. On top of that, he added five rushes for 34 yards.
The common narrative going around is that it was only Charleston Southern. And that’s true. Charleston Southern is not a great football team, but anyone who watched Florida in 2017 would likely agree that Franks couldn’t have done the things he did against air last year.
The real test of his improvement will begin this week against Kentucky, but being able to go out and give an impressive debut is huge for his confidence and the confidence of the entire team.
“It’s very, very critical to their success, especially for a young player,” said quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson. “The more success you have, and get off to a good start, it becomes contagious throughout the game. It becomes contagious to your teammates. I think it definitely shows throughout the entire team when you get off to a good start playing at the quarterback position.”
It was especially important for Franks, who really struggled to get the support of the fan base after performing so poorly last season.
While it is best for a quarterback to ignore those kinds of distractions, sometimes it is simply impossible. He certainly gained some respect after the weekend, but whether the response is good or bad, his coaches want him to remain unfazed by it.
“It’s a completely different year, and the world that we live in now, it’s a week-to-week deal with every quarterback,” said Johnson. “About half the quarterbacks in the country that lost got told on Twitter that they’re terrible. That’s the world we live in. It’s very polarized, and to me that’s where the mental toughness comes in at the quarterback position, being able to block that stuff out and worry about what really matters, which is your teammates, your feedback from your coaches and your family. You’ve got to be able to handle that and not let it affect you in terms of how you prepare and how you get ready to go play.”
Instead of concerning himself with his perception, Franks dove into his preparation throughout the summer and all the way into game week. His teammates noticed him attack his conditioning and transform into a leader in that time, and they believe that is why he has made such great strides in his game and will continue to improve as the season goes on.
“He did what he needed to do and he prepared extremely well all camp and all week, and I think that’s a big reason why he came out and had so much success,” said tight end R.J. Raymond. “And he’s doing the same thing this week. He’s staying late with the coaches and making sure he’s got his reads down, and if he has a question, he’s gonna be sure to ask it.”
If one thing became apparent on Saturday, it was how much more relaxed Franks looked than he has in the past. It’s almost like he had a timid look in his eyes every time he stepped on the field last season because he was so worried to make mistakes.
He looked confident in the season opener, despite playing in the new offense for the very first time. His hard work along with the help from the coaching staff has made him a more poised quarterback and someone the Gators think they can count on this season.
“I’m getting more and more comfortable every day in it, and they’re helping me with that progression coming a little faster,” Franks said. “I feel more comfortable in it than I was in the summer and than I was in the fall, and then, I feel more comfortable in it than I was Saturday. I’m just trying to progress every day.”