On Kyle Trask, and what this Cocktail Party means for his Gators legacy
Kyle Trask has never shied away from a challenge. It’s not in his nature.
Kyle Trask’s accomplishments at Florida almost never happened, a classic tale of hard work meeting opportunity.
As a 10th grader, Trask lost the starting quarterback job on his varsity football team in Manvel, Texas. When it happened, his parents asked him if he wanteed to transfer to a different high school where he’d get to live out the Friday Night Lights Texas dream as QB 1 in small town, Texas, USA. Two of his teammates had done the same. Trask elected to stay, even if it meant only playing sparingly behind the sensational D’Eriq King, a coveted national recruit who signed and starred at Houston before transferring to Miami. Trask demurred, telling his dad “competition is a way of life and there’s no sense in running from it now.
“I always believed if I was patient, and prepared myself like the next game was the biggest game I’d play, an opportunity would follow,” Trask told the media earlier this summer.
It did, but not in the usual way. King was a star, and Trask was left hoping college coaches that came to see King or someone else paid notice to the tall backup with the big arm. Initially, that didn’t happen. Local schools Lamar and Houston Baptist offered, but hardly anyone else paid much mind.
But Trask kept working, and eventually, he got a break.
Randy Shannon, then a defensive assistant under Florida’s Jim McElwain, noticed Trask while watching a Texas defensive prospect the Gators were pursuing. He told Florida’s offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, and Florida offered. Trask signed up immediately.
In Gainesville, Trask again stuck around when others thought he’d never earn a chance to play.
Sure, there were whispers out of camps from Trask’s first days that the big Texan had moxie and knew the playbook, and that the team tended to move when he was under center. But Feleipe Franks moved the team too, and the rocket arm and way the locker room gravitated toward Franks always kept Trask in a familiar spot: backup quarterback. Again, Trask’s family asked if he wanted to transfer somewhere he’d have the chance to play. Again, Trask declined.
His persistence paid off when Franks was injured and lost for the season against Kentucky last fall.
Trask stepped in and, despite having not started a football game since 9th grade, he led Florida to an 11-win season and an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia. In 10 starts, Trask threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, helping Florida to its most successful season offensively since the Tebow era.
As a senior, Trask has improved almost every facet of his game, according to his head coach.
“He’s made as much progress from one year to the next as almost any guy I’ve ever coached,” Mullen told the media this August. “We’re on kind of graduate-level stuff with Kyle. I mean he understands the offense and the reads and all of that. It’s how fast he’s getting to everything, the ability to check and change plays. The ability to extend the game plan where he has automatics that he can get us to, ‘Hey, we like this play against this look. His understanding of the offense is so good and allows us to be versatile. He’s not done getting better.”
Trask isn’t done facing down big challenges either.
The latest challenge?
Conquering Georgia. Florida’s bitterest rival (sorry, FSU people, but this game is older and more important), the Dawgs are 3-time reigning SEC East division champions and have reasserted control in the Cocktail Party under Kirby Smart. Georgia has also out-recruited Florida for the past 4 seasons, building a significant talent gap that has only recently begun to narrow (because Florida is adding more to its roster).
The Gators still have less talent than Georgia, but a great quarterback is the ultimate equalizer in college football, and Trask is the first game-changing Gators quarterback to start a second Cocktail Party since Tim Tebow.
Already the most accurate and effective short route passer (1-10 yards) in college football, Trask can also spread the field vertically, as he is 2nd in the SEC in accuracy on throws of 16 yards or more and leads the SEC in accuracy on throws of over 20 yards, per SEC Stat Cat. Put differently, you could say Trask heard the rumor he’s a “dink and dunk” quarterback and answered the challenge as he always does — with actions and not words.
Trask’s other numbers are staggering. He just set an SEC record for touchdowns by a quarterback in their first 4 SEC games (18). According to Pro Football Focus, he’s the top-rated passer in the league on 3rd down, 5 full points ahead of Alabama’s Mac Jones from an efficiency standpoint. His 68.3% completion rate is on pace to be the highest for a Florida quarterback since Tebow’s 67.8% mark as a senior in 2009. And he’s almost a shoo-in to be the first Gators QB to throw for 3,000 yards since Tebow’s Heisman winning campaign in 2007. Steve Spurrier, the HBC or the Evil Genius himself, depending on which side of the Cocktail Party your allegiance falls, has said that the Trask ought to be a Heisman candidate.
Trask is a poster for everything that’s right about college football, the kind of kid who waits his turn, works hard and seizes his opportunity when it comes. His legacy as a wonderful story and one of the key pieces who brought the fun back to Florida football after a decade in the wilderness is secure. It’s really just a question of scale.
The greatest Gators quarterbacks are remembered for what they did against Georgia.
Steve Spurrier couldn’t beat the Dawgs, and it cost him multiple chances at the SEC championship he thirsted for as a player. He never forgot those failures and carried them with him to Gainesville as a head coach, where he went 11-1 against Georgia. Spurrier took the same “beat Georgia” energy to South Carolina too, and was a thorn in Mark Richt and Georgia’s side in Columbia too, winning his fair share despite talent disparities.
Danny Wuerffel won 4 SEC Championships and a Heisman Trophy, and is on a list of one when it comes to quarterbacks who were undefeated in multiple games against Tennessee’s Peyton Manning. Wuerffel is remembered for winning the 1996 national championship, but he also went 4-0 against Georgia, including one game where he helped Florida hang 50 on the Dawgs in Athens.
Rex Grossman’s legacy should include the 2001 Heisman Trophy, but “way back” in 2001, no sophomore had ever won. Grossman finished a close second to Nebraska’s Eric Crouch. As a consolation, Grossman never lost to Georgia, going 3-0 against the Dawgs, including a stunning victory in 2002, where he played on a sprained knee and threw for 339 yards. The legendary Larry Munson said this of Grossman’s final game against Georgia: “The quarterback, Grossman, ripped out our hearts. He broke our hearts again. He took our heart and our best chance at a national championship (since 1980) and he doesn’t care.” That win is perhaps the biggest part of Grossman’s Florida legacy.
Chris Leak played for three different offensive coordinators and two head coaches but managed to go 3-1 against the Dawgs. His final win in that game, in 2006, put Florida on the path to the program’s second national championship.
Tim Tebow was also 3-1 against Georgia, including the 2006 game that Leak started but Tebow featured prominently. Tebow, who always seemed to play his best in rivalry games, tortured the Dawgs, accounting for 10 overall touchdowns and winning his final 2 games over ranked Georgia teams by an average score of 45-13. For good measure, Tebow broke Herschel Walker’s all-time SEC rushing touchdown record in the Cocktail Party in 2009.
Kyle Trask is up next. If he is the quarterback who pushes Florida back over the top against Georgia, it will be the crowning achievement of an unlikely, special Gators career. It will also join him at the hip in Florida football history with Mullen, who was plenty successful against the Dawgs as a coordinator but hasn’t figured out this game — or Kirby Smart — as a head coach.
Saturday, Kyle Trask will be the best quarterback on the field by a country mile. Often times, that’s enough to tip the scales in a big rivalry game. It might just be enough to tip the scale of an already sizeable legacy for Trask, too.