Buddy Martin's Blog: The moment Kyle Trask has been waiting for. Can the ‘Next Man Up’ do it?

When he has to, Trask can tuck it and run. (Florida Gators photo)

There is a reason Kyle Trask is still standing. And prevailing. And maybe about to move up in the quarterback neighborhood to elite status. He is a poster boy for patience, grit and determination.

Trask got passed over more times than an airport control tower. Until last season. Lesser men would have folded and been long gone through the transfer portal. Your butt can just take so many splinters, but the emerging Gator star would not go away when had every reason to do so last season. Why?

“Maybe he just loves being a Florida Gator,” theorized former All-SEC wide receiver, NFL player and UF coach Lee McGriff, now a Gator Radio Network analyst who admits to coveting the tasty room service tosses Trask delivers to his receiving corps.

Turns out that later Trask did say exactly that: He loved being a Gator. He was content waiting his turn. And it came on the unlikeliest circumstance one night in Lexington, Ky. when his friend Feleipe Franks lay writhing on the turf with a serious leg injury and had to be hauled off in a cart to an ambulance.

In any scenario it’s tough to come in cold from the bullpen, but when you’re mummified with cobwebs from inactivity, and just saw your cohort hauled off in great pain, maybe your coach really shouldn’t expect your best efforts. But Trask delivered like Amazon Prime.

When he entered the game at Kroger Field, Florida trailed 21-10 and the Wildcats’ defense was providing stubborn resistance. Right away, Trask moved his team downfield and led them to a 29-21 victory, himself scoring the go-ahead TD in the final four minutes.

It was the ultimate comeback moment for a guy who had been in mothballs since he was a sophomore in high school and hadn’t started a game since. Actually, Trask wasn’t coming back – he had never been there in the first place. But Mr. Unflappable didn’t flap, calmly stating:

“I was expected to go out there and produce,” Trask said matter-of -factly. “I was expected to go out there and win the game. It was nothing new.”

He just kept on going for the next 14 games, pitching his Gator teammates to an 11-3 record, including an Orange Bowl win over Virginia.

According to his coaches, Trask benefitted from a strong work ethic and the routine of Offensive Coordinator Brian Johnson which allows all three quarterbacks to share equally in reps with the No. 1 unit. And his passion for the game.

“I think it's absolutely huge how we train the quarterback position in terms of making sure that guys are getting reps in practice,” said Johnson. “You know, I tell those guys all the time, ‘this is the one sport where you practice more than you play,’ and I think it's very, very important that guys get a great feel and a great understanding of how to become a great practice player, and have it translate to the game.

“It was really no surprise that Kyle went in and played well because he's always performed really well in practice.”

Not even a pandemic could stop this football equivalent to a gym rat. When practice was shut down by the quarantine after an outbreak of Covid-19 and there was nobody to even pitch and catch with, he conned his girlfriend Jade Caraway (who plays softball for the Gators) into being his target.

“You know, he's a fantastic young man, he's very, very diligent about his preparation, he wants to be a great football player, he has an unbelievable desire, and he's very self-motivated, and I think that's a great quality to have, not only in football but in life, in general,” said Johnson.

It’s Kyle Trask’s team now. And that was pretty evident when Missouri defensive lineman Trajan Jeffcoat hammered Trask late on the final play of the first half last Saturday night and his teammates quickly responded by squaring off at mid-field with the visitors.

Some called it a “brawl,” but it seems to me “scuffle” more accurately describes it. There were several ejections and suspensions for the first half this weekend – Florida players Zach Carter (DL) and Antwuan Powell (LB) and three from Missouri next week.

Several Gator players spoke out this week saying they felt the whole incident may have inspired their team. “When it comes to our quarterback,” said receiver Trevon Grimes, “nobody should touch him.” He is highly regarded by his teammates.

Show of appreciation from favorite receiver Kyle Pitts. (Florida Gators photo)

I’ve seen 50 years of SEC quarterbacks, but I've never seen one throw 18 touchdown passes in four games. Not Manziel or Manning, Tagovailoa or Tebow, or Locke or Leak. Those are big-time numbers because nobody in football’s best conference has ever done it. And certainly not against all SEC teams.

Of course, numbers alone do not an elite quarterback make, but let’s start there. BTW, who gets to decide which guys are worthy of an “elite” designation? For right now, right here, it’s me.

My friend Scott Carter of Floridagators.com came up with delicious stat: “I notice #Gators QB Kyle Trask now has 44 career TD passes and 4,444 passing yards if the Gators score 44 Saturday, like their chances.”

Four more touchdowns for the fifth straight game?

Kyle Trask’s story is one that should be memorialized. How he got here to this game in this moment is remarkable, not a story very well told or its magnitude properly expounded. In children’s parlance, he’s The Little Engine that Could. He is the ultimate Next Man Up. This is his defining moment.

If they ever build a statue on the Florida campus in honor of “Next Man Up,” Kyle Trask would make the perfect model.

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