Franks, Trask cross paths again
This has happened before, but not like this.
The first time was different. When Brock Berlin went against the Gators in 2003, he wasn’t facing the coach he played for (Steve Spurrier) or the quarterback he competed against (Rex Grossman).
For Feleipe Franks, Saturday’s matchup between Florida and Arkansas is closer to home and more complicated. Unlike Berlin, who couldn’t beat out Grossman and transferred to Miami, Franks was the starter for three seasons and made some great memories at UF.
He was also benched as a redshirt freshman, booed as a sophomore and scrutinized by the media throughout his time in Gainesville. The experience was a mixed bag for him, and ultimately led to his departure from the program last December.
The move to Fayetteville has paid off, with Franks bouncing back from his season-ending injury to spark college football's most improbable turnaround. While his relationship with Florida fans remains strained, the bond he shares with his former teammates and coaches hasn’t changed.
“I love all those guys on the staff and the players,” he said this week. “I still communicate with those guys. It’ll be a fun game. I’m looking forward to it.”
UF coach Dan Mullen and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson both keep in touch with Franks, who was one of the first people to send Megan Mullen a Happy Mother’s Day text in May. Her husband last spoke to him a couple weeks ago, and Johnson reaches out regularly.
“We have a great relationship. I still talk to him quite often,” Johnson said of Franks. “The reason you get into coaching is really about the relationships. Regardless if he’s here or not he’s someone we spent a lot of time with.
"He’s family to me. We keep in constant contact. I’m really proud of what he’s been able to accomplish this year. I’m looking forward to seeing him in person this weekend.”
Several players still stay in touch with Franks as well, including former roommates Brett Heggie and Trevon Grimes, who said they speak three times a week. Running back Malik Davis called Franks a brother and had a tough time seeing him transfer.
“He was a big part of the team, and not just on the field,” Davis said of Franks. “Everyone's close to him. He was a great teammate, and a great brother. So, when he left it was definitely hard.
“Sometimes that's just how things work out. He went over there, and I feel like it was just a good fit. He was just making the right decision for himself. And it shows.”
Davis was a freshman in 2017 when Franks debuted as the starter. He had his moments early on, including the Hail Mary against Tennessee and comeback win over Vanderbilt, but committed too many turnovers and was benched three times during a 4-7 season.
Many fans wrote off Franks after that, but Mullen’s hiring was his saving grace.
“Feleipe’s a guy that went through a lot while he was here,” Mullen said. “Before we got here, he had a rough go of it with the fan base and everything going on. He came in and took a four-win team and led ’em to a New Year’s Six bowl victory and a top-10 finish and he helped the turnaround of the program to make that happen.
“I think (his legacy) is a foundation of a guy that came in and took a bad situation and turned it into a really good one and helped build a foundation and put Florida back to where everyone expects Florida to be as a top-10, national program.”
The last time Florida players saw Franks in uniform was when he went down with his injury at Kentucky. Teammates and coaches surrounded him in an emotional scene on the field. The first person to check on him after the game was quarterback Kyle Trask, who led the Gators to a comeback win that night.
“As soon as I went to the locker room, I was the first person in the training room to see him and see if he was doing all right,” Trask recalled. “We’ve just been such great friends ever since we both got here in 2016. So as soon as that game was over, he was the first person I saw after the game.”
Trask took the reins from Franks and won 11 games last season with 2,941 passing yards and 25 touchdowns, putting a stranglehold on the starting job. Franks wanted to make sure he played as a senior and left for Arkansas, where he was all but guaranteed to get the nod.
Trask described his relationship with Franks as “very beneficial” because they maintained a great friendship off the field despite competing against each other.
“We were there four years together. Always competed,” Franks said. “He drove me to get better. I hopefully drove him to get better. He’s playing really well, as well as their team.
“I’m excited to get down there. It’s my first time playing against him, which will be fun. Our relationship’s good. We’re both competitors. But at the end of the day, one person’s going to win and one person’s going to lose.”
Saturday is an opportunity for Trask to beat the quarterback he couldn’t beat out as the starter. Florida defenders, meanwhile, can’t wait to get their shot at Franks after not being able to hit him in practice.
“It was always fun going at it with Feleipe,” defensive lineman Zachary Carter said. “He was a vocal guy, so you chirp at him, he’s definitely going to chirp back. And we had a couple of altercations at practice.
“But it’s exciting that you’ve been going against somebody for so long and you finally have the opportunity to play them in a real game. So, that will be interesting.”