University of Florida

Despite competing for starting job, Florida quarterbacks still friends

Florida quarterback Austin Appleby (12) and quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) signal in a play from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Texas in Gainesville, Fla., Sat., Sept. 17, 2016.
Florida quarterback Austin Appleby (12) and quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) signal in a play from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Texas in Gainesville, Fla., Sat., Sept. 17, 2016. AP

Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask are facing off every day for the chance to lead Florida’s offense.

Coaches are meticulously keeping track of every throw, every handoff and every interaction the redshirt freshmen quarterbacks make.

At the end of the day, either Franks or Trask is likely to emerge as Florida’s 10th starting quarterback since Tim Tebow’s final year in 2009.

But also at the end of the day, the two aren’t letting the starting job get in the way of the friendship formed since their first spring camp last year.

“A lot of people think it’s hatred between one quarterback and another,” Franks said. “But any competition I’ve ever been in, it’s not like that. You’re here to help each other and help each other get better.

“Iron sharpens iron.”

UF coach Jim McElwain, heading into his third season with the Gators and looking for more than just an Southeastern Conference East title this time around, knows the right decision needs to be made. However, he also knows there’s a balance between pushing his quarterback and letting the battle resolve itself.

“The biggest piece we’re looking for first and foremost is [for] somebody to step up and say, ‘You know what, I'm going to take this and I’m going to lead this team and help the parts around me play better,’” McElwain said. “Now with that, it can’t be forced.

“It’s got to be natural.”

Halfway through spring camp and about two weeks ahead of Florida’s spring game on April 7, McElwain and players have seen that natural leadership from both quarterbacks, who have juxtaposing strengths.

Franks, the 6-6 gunslinger from Crawfordville, brings the pop and excitement.

The former four-star recruit who flipped late to Florida from LSU during the 2016 recruiting season has a knack for making the downfield passes.

He opened spring practice this year with a touchdown pass to Tyrie Cleveland during the team’s fastball period — a scripted, four-play set immediately after the team stretches to get the juices flowing before going into individual drills.

“I believe in myself,” Franks said. “I have the most confidence in the world in every throw that I make. That’s the mindset I go into [a] game” with.

Trask takes more of a lead-by-example approach. The former two-star recruit from Manvel, Texas, has an edge when it comes to short and mid-range accuracy, but the redshirt freshman doesn’t have the arm strength of Franks.

And while true in-game experience isn’t on Trask’s side, the 6-4 quarterback is used to facing competition on a daily basis.

Trask was a backup in high school and only had offers from three Football Championship Subdivision schools before getting an offer from UF after participating in a pair of the Gators’ high school camps.

“Once I got here, I was just working my tail off,” Trask said. “Coach Mac told me he’s happy to have me here. All I can do is focus on what I can control.”

Off the field, the quarterbacks enjoy being around each other. They spend time after practice together, whether its in the film room or playing a friendly game of ping pong.

"We haven’t had any tension because we both early enrolled,” Trask said. “We’ve gotten close ever since."

But at the end of the day, only one of them can be the starting quarterback on Sept. 2, when UF opens its season against Michigan in Arlington, Texas.

And after last season, a 9-4 year in which the Gators ranked last in the SEC in total offense and second-to-last in the conference in touchdown-to-interception ratio (1.2:1), Florida is hoping the quarterbacks continue to build on their early success in practice.

Right now, though, Florida coaches are confident in both of them to get the job done.

“Last time I checked,” offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said, “greatness wasn’t defined by age or experience."

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