Feleipe Franks leaves Gators better than he found them
Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks, the Gators’ starting quarterback until he suffered a season-ending injury at Kentucky in September, announced Sunday that he will leave the program at the end of the 2019 season. Franks indicated he would explore his options of entering the 2020 NFL Draft or pursuing a graduate transfer to play at another school.
In truth, the decision isn’t a surprise, albeit for different reasons today than anticipated when the season began in August.
One of the least-kept secrets in the Florida football program this summer was that if all went well, this would be Franks’ last season in Gainesville, as the rocket armed quarterback intended to enter the NFL Draft this spring. Circumstances have changed now due to his unfortunate season-ending injury, but the result is no different.
The time is right for Franks to leave.
Franks was terrific as a sophomore, accounting for 31 touchdowns against only 6 interceptions and making the largest jump in quarterback rating among any quarterback in the Power 5. It was widely expected he would take an immense jump in his second full season under Mullen. Instead, he got off to a slow start, with up and down performances against Miami and Kentucky, and then he was hurt and lost for the year.
Longtime backup Kyle Trask performed brilliantly in relief of Franks, leading the Gators to 7 wins as a starter. In only 9 starts, Trask threw for 2,636 yards and 24 TDs this season, finishing the regular season ranked 3rd in the SEC in QB rating, behind only Heisman front-runner Joe Burrow and Alabama All-American Tua Tagovailoa.
When Trask announced last week he would return to Florida for his redshirt senior season, the writing was on the wall for Franks. Either leave, or risk being a backup if he lost a quarterback competition.
Trask wasn’t the only one competing, either. Florida also will return redshirt sophomore quarterback Emory Jones, the heir apparent to Trask and the best pure run/pass fit for Mullen’s offense since Dak Prescott when both were at Mississippi State. Given Mullen’s increasing comfort with using both Trask and Jones, Florida’s spring quarterback competition was already going to be fierce, and Franks has won every quarterback competition he’s ever been in, but this time, given the year Trask just put together, it was always going to be too large a risk for Franks to stay.
Franks, who would be a redshirt senior absent a medical waiver next season, wrote on his Instagram account that his “heart will always be a part of the Gator family,” thanking those inside the football facility for always “having his back no matter what.”
Franks was a lightning rod for criticism among Florida fans and the national media, but no one ever questioned his work ethic or the fact that he was beloved in the Florida locker room.
Most important, Franks leaves the Florida program in much better shape than he found it.
Thrust into a starting job by Jim McElwain far too soon and with the program on fire around him in the wake of the Credit Card 9 scandal that derailed Florida’s 2017 campaign and signaled the beginning of the end for McElwain, Franks never had a chance as a freshman. He was booed mercilessly by his home fans after a dreadful outing and loss against rival FSU in The Swamp to close that season, and did himself few favors by being flippant with the media after the game. Still, so much of what happened to Franks that season was beyond his control, and by the end of 2018, his first season under Mullen, he was a bona fide team leader playing the best football of his life.
He rallied the Gators to a home win over South Carolina and a blowout victory over the Seminoles, where he accounted for 300 total yards and 3 touchdowns. That win vaulted the Gators in to a New Year’s 6 bowl game, and Franks saved his best for last. Franks blistered a Michigan defense that came into the game one of the nation’s best, accounting for 247 yards passing and rushing and 2 touchdowns in a 41-15 Florida rout. Franks was named Peach Bowl Offensive MVP for his efforts.
That win was immense for Mullen’s Florida rebuild, probably the program’s best victory of the decade to that point. It set the tone for a terrific spring and laid the foundation for the ten-win regular season to come in 2019, which marked the first time since the Meyer era Florida managed ten wins in back-to-back seasons.
For that, Franks, whatever his flaws, did what legacy builders do, leaving the program better than he found it. My guess is if he plays college football next season, he’ll do that somewhere else too.