Kyle Trask has this way of sneaking up on you. It’s not like he’s actually trying to be sneaky. He’s there in plain sight and has been for a long time, just that when you think you’ve got him figured out he does something that makes you ask where did that come from?
Like last year in Lexington. There he was on the sidelines watching Feleipe Franks and the Gators struggle against Kentucky. With 3:21 remaining in the third quarter and the Gators trailing, 21-10, Franks not only failed to convert a fourth and one at the Kentucky 38, but he went down in a painful heap. X-rays at the UK Medical Center would reveal a fracture with a dislocated ankle. His season was over.
As Franks was wheeled out of Kroger Field on a stretcher there was a knot the size of Lake Okeechobee in the collective stomach of the Gator Nation. Ever since he played like a pro when the Gators stomped Michigan in the Peach Bowl, Franks had become the poster child for Florida’s lofty expectations and now the fate of the season was in the hands of Trask, a career backup who hadn’t started a football game since he was a ninth grader in Manvel, Texas, or Emory Jones, a redshirt freshman with a world of potential but lacking experience.
When the Gators got the ball back, ironically after Kentucky was stuffed on a fourth and one at the Florida 38, it was Trask that got the call. Social media was abuzz, resigned to a Florida loss – there was no way a career backup was going to lead the Gators back from an 11-point deficit on the road – and contemplating how many games before Dan Mullen turned the reins and the future over to Jones. Could the Gators even make it to a bowl game? Many doubted they could.
Hope, they say, springs eternal but there wasn’t a lot of hope springing Kyle Trask’s way from even the most ardent Gator supporters but maybe they forgot where they were. This was Lexington. This was Kentucky. This was the same stadium where an unknown quarterback from Pahokee named Harold Peacock led the Gators to a win nobody ever expected in 1967. This was the same stadium that gave us “Doering’s got a touchdown! Doering’s got a touchdown!” back in 1993. In retrospect, what happened with Kyle Trask shouldn’t have surprised us. All he did was lead the Gators to 19 straight points, turning what seemed like a surefire defeat into a most unexpected, 29-21, victory.
Okay, he got lucky. At least that was the consensus on social media which offered up the explanation that (a) Trask was in a no pressure situation since everyone expected the Gators to lose and (b) the Wildcats thought they had the game in the bag when they knocked Franks out of the game.
The problem with the he got lucky theory is that it's good for one game, maybe two. From that comeback kid performance in Lexington Trask kept sneaking up on us. The next week as a first time starter against Tennessee, Trask validated the win over Kentucky. In each subsequent week he got better. What started out as Feleipe Franks' team morphed seamlessly into Kyle Trask's team. Each game was a new opportunity to show off skills nobody really knew existed. He made all the throws. He kept checking the Gators into the right play. He commanded the huddle. Teammates believed.
Mullen never once acted surprised at anything Trask did as he took over the team and led them to an 11-2 season that culminated at the Orange Bowl. Could the Gators have gone 11-2 if Franks hadn't gone down? Maybe, but that's a hypothetical question for which an answer isn't required. Trask came in under adverse circumstances, made the most of his opportunity and despite the fact he didn’t have the rocket arm or mobility that Franks had, he still put up the best stats (2,947 passing yards, 8.3 per attempt, 25 touchdown passes) of any Florida quarterback since Tim Tebow’s senior season. Above all else, he showed that he could inspire teammates to play at a higher level.
As Florida’s starting quarterback, Trask had to face the media each Monday. He was shy at first but he grew into the role. He answered questions politely. Once when asked if there is a not so quiet, not so polite Kyle Trask in the huddle, his face turned red but he answered yes. Teammates confirmed there was a side to Trask we don’t see in the huddle or at practice. In other words, that shy, polite exterior serves to mask a competitive fire that burns in his belly.
The global pandemic changed the landscape of college football and yet it changed nothing at all when it comes to Kyle Trask or the expectation that this will be the year when the Florida Gators transform into the Beast of the SEC East. Prior to the pandemic this was expected to be Florida’s year, in no small part because Trask is the leading returning passer in the SEC. Now that the pandemic has eliminated spring practice, eliminated offseason workouts that bond quarterbacks and receivers among other things, and changed the schedule into a 10-game, conference games only free-for-all, the Gators are still the team to beat in the SEC East. So the more things have changed, the more nothing has changed.
As we have seen in the early going prior to the SEC commencing play on September 26, the teams that have a comfort level with their offensive scheme and experienced quarterbacks have a tremendous advantage. Having a quarterback three years into the same offensive system was a factor in the high expectations for the Gators pre-pandemic. With the pandemic continuing to alter everything from the number of practices to the amount of practice time, having Trask back only makes Florida the smart choice to end Georgia’s three-year reign at the top of the SEC East. Whereas Georgia is breaking in a new offensive system with a quarterback who has never taken a snap in an SEC game, Florida has Trask, three years into the same system and performing in preseason practice at what Mullen calls a graduate level.
Familiarity with the Mullen offense has plenty to do with why nearly every football magazine, the SEC coaches and the SEC media selected Trask as their preseason All-SEC quarterback. Even those who question if Trask has an NFL caliber arm have to admit the cerebral aspects of the game set him apart from every other quarterback in the Southeastern Conference.
He’s plenty smart. Everybody knows that, but Trask also has the ability to zone out crowd noise as they found out at Tiger Stadium when the Gators had LSU on the ropes in the second half. When 100,000 insane and oh so loud Cajuns are screaming their lungs out and calling you every name – both thinkable and unthinkable – in the book, you better have a noise reduction capability or else your brain won’t function properly. Trask burned the Tigers for 310 yards and three touchdown passes.
Additionally, and as important as any physical skill, Trask has the ability to instantly put a bad play behind him. Think back to those two fumbles when Derrick Brown and the Auburn defensive line collapsed the pocket. Instead of rattling Trask and taking him out of the game mentally, Trask just moved on to the next play and led the Gators to an impressive 24-13 win over the 7th-ranked Tigers.
Trask isn’t the only reason why Florida has championship expectations for 2020, but he is a good place to start. In a season where the roster can change week-to-week because of the Covid-19 virus and games can be rescheduled if SEC-mandated roster minimums can’t be met, you have to have a quarterback who can go with the flow. That’s Kyle Trask.
In an era where players transfer on a whim using every excuse imaginable to mask the real reason of lack of playing time, Trask has patiently waited his turn, absorbing as he goes. Mullen never has had to question Trask’s work ethic or his dedication to the film room. Nor has he had to question Trask’s loyalty. Trask could have transferred out on more than one occasion and there would have been multiple options for a landing spot but he chose to stick it out at Florida. Practice made him better. The film room made him better prepared. When his chance finally came, he stepped in and got the job done so well that Franks elected to transfer out. If ever there were a sign that this was Kyle Trask’s football team to lead, that was it.
There is one more reason why Kyle Trask could be the quarterback who leads the Gators to their first Southeastern Conference championship since the national title team of 2008. There are championships in his blood.
Kyle's grandfather, Orville Trask, was an outstanding two-way lineman for the Rice Owls, who beat the Florida Gators in Houston in both 1953 and 1954. Orville Trask helped lead Rice to a Southwest Conference championship and a 28-6 win over Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. In 1960, as a second-team All-AFL defensive tackle for the Houston Oilers, owner Bud Adams gave Orville Trask the game ball for his outstanding play after the Oilers beat the Los Angeles Chargers for the first American Football League championship. The Oilers also won the 1961 AFL title with Orville again playing a key role in the defensive line.
Just because his grandfather played football at a championship level does not guarantee that Kyle Trask will lead the Gators to an SEC championship, but the fire that burned in the belly of Orville Trask burns in Kyle’s belly, too. Don’t think that just because he waited all those years to get a chance that Trask lacks the ability to lead Florida to a championship. Patience builds character, something Trask has in abundance. Practice hones skills and there is no question Trask has the skill it takes to lead the Gators on the biggest of stages. Adversity prepares you to deal with changing circumstances. The entire circumstance of college football has changed in the last several months. If that isn't adversity then nothing is.
Given all that has changed can you think of a better quarterback than Kyle Trask to lead the Florida Gators in 2020? He wasn't the 5-star recruit and it took four years for Trask to become an overnight sensation but when given his opportunity he showed everyone that the wait had been worth it.
Trask won’t be sneaking up on us this year as he did in 2019, but just as he met or exceeded expectations week in and week out last year, he’s ready to pick up where he left off. This time, however, he has a championship squarely in his sights.