Gainesville, FL – It seems like so long ago. Jim McElwain was roaming the sidelines of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the Florida football program was at (arguably) its lowest point since the firing of “Give ’em hell” Pell, and a young and talented and woefully unprepared quarterback was being thrown to the wolves of the SEC each and every Saturday.
Despite the fact that McElwain was dismissed from the program amid a myriad of scandals and administrative issues that were macabre, to say the least, the damage to that young quarterback’s reputation had already been done. It didn’t matter that the very next season, Feleipe Franks put up the best numbers of any Florida quarterback since The Great One, Tim Tebow, was willing his team on to victory. Nor did it matter that the team went from 4-7 the previous year, to 10-3 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Champions the next. And it most certainly didn’t matter that Franks was named the MVP of that New Year’s Six Bowl Game. No. The damage had been done and the Gators’ faithful had already made up their collective minds about the kid from Crawfordville, Florida.
It’s hard to believe that it has already been three years since Feleipe Franks was thrust into the spotlight, in moments much too big for him, by coaches that didn’t quite understand how to refine him. Three years ago, Feleipe Franks had just completed a freshman season that he and every Gator fan in the world would rather forget. But was it fair to place so much on his shoulders?
I mean, sure, he did complete less than 55% of his passes. Likewise, his paltry 6.3 yards per attempt was only good enough to finish the season with a 9/8 touchdown/interception ratio. But what if we were all just a bit too hasty? What if we were a little too hardened to acknowledge the obstacles that he had to overcome and give credit where it was due? Don’t get me wrong. It is quite evident that sitting patiently, quietly, behind Feleipe Franks was a truly special talent. The likes of which demanded to be seen by all the world. But we’ll get to that in my next column.
Instead, I want to take a moment to acknowledge what Feleipe Franks did for the Florida football program. Time and again, he was placed in terrible positions by the previous coaching staff. And yet, he never pointed the finger. Franks held his head high, even when everywhere he turned, he was reminded of why he wasn’t good enough. The fan base had high expectations for the position that so many tremendous players have played in the orange and blue. Anything less than extraordinary wasn’t going to cut it, and there could be no excuses for the contrary.
Photo by Wesley Hitt / Getty Images
Despite having such a tumultuous freshman season, Franks showed the intestinal fortitude to continue on, even when Dan Mullen arrived and promised that they were going to work like they had never worked before. And work they did. Franks became a vocal leader in the locker room and on the field. He made sure to soak up every bit of instruction that his new mentor had for him. As a result, Franks had a very impressive progression from year one to year two.
Although he still displayed some struggles with accuracy, completing just 58.4% of his passes, Franks posted the best statistical season for a Florida quarterback in a decade. More than that, Franks was a leader that was an integral part in restoring the culture at Florida. The swagger of the 90s and the 2000s was on the way back, and it was because of players, like Feleipe that were willing to put the team before themselves. Don’t believe me? Just look at how Franks responded when he was sidelined by a broken ankle last season.
Throughout his rehabilitation, Franks was an active presence at team events, and often seen right beside Kyle Trask, on the sidelines, discussing what the other was seeing on the field. As much as losing his starting role hurt, he continued to put the team first. That rough young talent with the awkward delivery has shown incredible heart and a work ethic that is second to none. As a result, his accuracy has improved (67.2% so far this season) and he has now thrown 52 career touchdown passes. Of course, a tremendous amount of credit has to go to Dan Mullen, who has proven to be one of the greatest developers of talent in the modern era of college football. But, in order to be coached, one must be coachable.
It is with great admiration, that I welcome Feleipe Franks back to The Swamp on Saturday night. I, for one, appreciate and recognize your contributions to the success of the Florida Gators football program, and I applaud you for it. With that said, there won’t be any “Shoosh-ing” of the home crowd this weekend. Go Gators!