An open letter to Feleipe Franks
It’s finally here. Junior year. Game week. A date with The U. A national spotlight. And Saturday night in Orlando is only the beginning. It’s all out there for you. Anything is possible.
This fall, there was no starting quarterback competition in camp, no social media hive backing another option, no media geniuses writing and wondering aloud if you were the right guy for the job. Your status as QB 1 of the Florida Gators was never in doubt.
You’ve earned that, haven’t you? The right to be BMOC in the year of the quarterback in the SEC.
It isn’t easy to be the quarterback of the Florida Gators. It’s a school with one of the richest quarterback histories in 150 years of college football. You need two hands to count the All-Americans that came before.
You don’t just stand on the shoulders of giants when you win the job in Gainesville, you see their statutes when you walk toward practice, The Swamp or the football complex. Every. Single. Day.
Spurrier. Wuerffel. Tebow.
Three Heisman winners cast in bronze, beckoning you to greatness but burdening you with expectations.
What’s Dan Mullen always say?
“It’s a privilege to be the starting quarterback at the University of Florida, but the pressure of that job is a privilege too,” is how he describes it. That’s right, and it’s not a job for the faint of heart.
But now it’s here. Your moment. Your team. Twelve — hopefully 13 and even more — Saturdays down South.
It has been a hell of a road to get here. There has been plenty of heartache. There is no shortage of battle scars.
Jim McElwain saw the NFL frame and rocket arm he recruited and threw you to the Wolverines as a redshirt freshman. Walking out onto that field in Dallas, with the program’s culture on fire off the field — that would have been a challenge for any kid, in truth. But to ask it of you as a freshman, that was madness, especially at a place like Florida, where the sun rises and sets with the quarterback. Forget how unfair it was to ask you to guide an offense missing its two best playmakers. You were the quarterback. You got the blame.
By midseason, McElwain was gone, the season was lost and the story was you were way in over your head. You didn’t want to talk about it, and when you did, after a brutal season-ending loss at home to Florida State, who could blame you for being defensive?
Dan Mullen arrived, and immediately the questions swirled.
Would Mullen be able to “fix you?” Could you even run a spread offense? Would a star recruit who also happened to be a stylish fit for Mullen’s scheme start from Day 1? When Mullen declared the quarterback competition open his first spring and fall, plenty of people expected you to fail.
You won the job anyway. Again.
That’s always been the thing about you, hasn’t it?
You don’t get outworked. How did Chauncey Gardner-Johnson put it last December?
“Usually one of the first to show up. Almost always the last to leave. That’s my quarterback.”
How did Lamical Perine describe you at SEC Media Days?
“There’s not a harder worker on the team, on the team. When we have stadium runs, he’s the first one to finish. He’s strong in the weight room. (He does) a lot of talking. That’s good. That’s usually (the case) for a competitive player like him.”
And so you’ve won every QB competition.
But it hasn’t been easy. The road to this moment hasn’t been a linear tale of progress.
Last year, there were dark moments.
The Homecoming clunker against Missouri where you were booed and benched.
I know you heard the noise too. You wouldn’t have shushed the home crowd against South Carolina if you were oblivious to what was being said on the outside.
But it was more than just the media and the fan base calling for a quarterback switch and wondering aloud if you were the guy for the gig.
There was the gut-wrenching, numbing, streak-busting home loss to Kentucky where you only completed 44% of your throws that ended with a turnover.
And of course, there were the deadly turnovers against Georgia that crushed your championship dreams. After the game, you went into a shell. You put your head down and delivered hushed, short answers to tough questions. You didn’t want to talk about it. And according to your head coach, you let it affect how you played the next week, too.
That’s why it was so noticeable at Media Days when you revisited it openly, without being asked.
“If you look at a couple games last year,” you said, “mainly Georgia, where if I didn’t turn the ball over so much, our season maybe ends in the Playoff. So we’re trying to build on that, prepare for those things and have a special season.”
That moment struck a chord with me.
Being accountable. Admitting you could be better. Taking ownership of the bad moments, not just the great ones. That’s maturity. That’s leadership.
That’s the guy Florida fans saw last November, even if much of the college football universe stopped watching.
The guy who threw for 8 touchdowns and ran for 4 more and didn’t turn the ball over once in his final 4 games in 2018. The guy who torched two defenses that came into the game ranked in the top 10 nationally: first, at FSU, where you put an emphatic end to the Seminoles’ half-decade of dominance with 300 total yards and 3 TD and then, against Michigan, where you vanquished those freshman year demons with an MVP performance in a New Year’s 6 Bowl, leading your team to a 41-15 win.
After the game, I wrote that the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl MVP performance against one of America’s finest defenses might be just the beginning for you and what you are capable of accomplishing.
After all, we saw the progress you made in November and history says Mullen works miracles with quarterbacks in their second year in his system. Ask Tim Tebow, who won a Heisman Trophy and a national championship in Year 2. Ask Alex Smith, who became the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Ask Chris Leak, who was All-SEC and won a national championship. Ask Dak Prescott, who had Mississippi State — yes, Mississippi State — ranked No. 1 in America in the first College Football Playoff poll. Why can’t you be the latest Mullen success story?
Aren’t you kind of that already? Apparently, most of America doesn’t think so. They haven’t bought in. This summer, Paul Finebaum and ESPN asserted Florida had “questions at the QB position” entering 2019.
Florida is NOT facing “serious questions at quarterback.”
This is laughable. pic.twitter.com/sMIPqemuP9
— David Waters – Gators Breakdown (@GatorDave_SEC) May 16, 2019
The only question is what your ceiling is.
After a season where you accounted for 31 (24 passing) Florida TD against only 6 interceptions, you made the largest efficiency jump of any starting QB in the Power 5. Only Kellen Mond came close to your level of improvement.
Isn’t it weird how Mond is considered a sleeper Heisman candidate, worthy of preseason All-SEC honors from the coaches, and you are considered a question mark?
Mond is marvelous, but …
Didn’t you win more football games in a tougher division than Mond last season? (Hate if you want, but the East beat the West head-to-head, y’all. And, remember, you went 2-0 against the West, beating ranked teams each time.) Weren’t you MVP of a New Year’s 6 Bowl? Weren’t you just as hot down the stretch? Did you need 2,321 overtimes to beat LSU or did that game end in 60 minutes with 90,000 Gators singing the Florida alma mater after a “W”?
Does the disrespect motivate you every bit as much as the bronze statutes you walk by every day?
Last season, you made your way by buying in and you fed off the noise.
Now it’s your moment.
It begins Saturday night in Orlando.
The Hurricanes have a ferocious defense, one returning the bulk of the starters from a group that finished in the top 10 nationally a year ago.
There’s no undercard. There’s just you and your guys, a rivalry game and a national television audience.
Plenty watching won’t know any better. They’ll expect you to fail.
Show them what you’ve become while they weren’t paying attention.
Seize the moment. You’ve earned it.