BY KASSIDY HILL
Every offseason since high school, Kyle Trask has prepared. He’s “prepared in case his number is called” and he’s “prepared like he’s the starter.” He’s prepared on his own and with teammates and prepared in every way possible. But for the first time in his long career, he’s spending this offseason preparing as the incumbent, the unquestioned starter for the Top 10 Florida Gators football team.
Last season was really the first since Tim Tebow when the Gators were able to prepare for a season with a clear leader at quarterback in Feleipe Franks. The name changed again this summer, but unlike the past decade, this is not another turn on the roulette wheel that has been the Florida quarterback situation. Franks’ graduation and subsequent transfer to the Arkansas Razorbacks came after a season lost to injury and the emergence of Kyle Trask. As we’ve mentioned here before, it wasn’t until Feleipe Franks saw his team was in competent hands with his friend and teammate that he felt comfortable leaving the job to Trask and transferring for his final season.
As such, despite the turnover, this Gators team still feels adequately suited to navigate this unusual offseason with a sure-footedness that fellow SEC teams can’t boast. In a time of uncertainty, that is one of the things that is bringing Mullen a modicum of comfort.
“For a guy like Kyle, everybody saw last year. He’s spent every offseason preparing. He prepared himself to be ready to go. And hopefully both he and Emory have done that this year to continue to get prepared and be ready to go for that moment when their number is called to get out on the field.
“Having that experience, having veteran players returning, it is—I feel pretty comfortable that they’re going to be prepared for the season and ready to go.”
It’s that experience that makes all the difference according to Mullen. As a backup, Kyle Trask was always well prepared. He put in the time, he put in the practice, he was ready for the play when he would be needed. And that preparation is why he was able to lead a 4th quarter comeback against Kentucky. It’s why he was able to slice apart defenses to the tune of seven games with 250+ passing yards and stay calm against Auburn. It’s why he was able to go toe-to-toe with Joe Burrow in Death Valley (310 yards—3 touchdowns—1 interception) and make easy work of FSU, swinging the pendulum of that rivalry back towards Gainesville.
It’s the experience though that will show itself in a newly honed Trask in his final year of eligibility. It’s the experience that will remind him not to stand in the pocket with pressure coming in, but instead to move the pocket to avoid the sack. It’s experience that will keep him from fumbling but instead learning how to better hold on to the ball when the defensive ends are allowed to hit you (which they can’t do in practice). It’s the experience that will keep his heart steady when the crowd noise kicks up and his eyes downfield when a shift forces an audible.
Each game during the 2019 season, we saw Kyle Trask receive another hard lesson and each week we saw him fix the previous mistake. The Orange Bowl win against Virginia saw him struggle more with accuracy than he had all season. Then as the offseason progressed, videos surfaced showing Trask working with his former high school teammate D’Eriq King on accuracy drills.
Says Mullen, “He’s now going from a guy that was preparing the right way, obviously prepared with confidence and knew he was gonna put in the time and the effort to be ready in case his number was called, to a guy, now, that has the confidence of having experience. Has the confidence of having done it.
“And I think that is different, not just, 'hey I've prepared in case my number's called'. Now he's a guy that has the confidence of, 'As I'm preparing, I know what it's gonna be like out there on the field', and I think that experience will be a big help for him.”
That experience, as mentioned above, led to some obvious improvements. Trask’s first three starts, he coughed up the ball in part to five strip sack fumbles, losing four of them. He didn’t fumble again the remaining seven games. He averaged 202.3 yards per game his first three appearances (Kentucky then next two starts). The remaining eight games, he averaged 286.8 yards per game through the air.
He finished with a 25-7 touchdown to interception ratio and a 66.9% completion rate for the season. And by the time the Gators had finished 11-2 with another New Years Six Bowl win, Trask was 15th in the country with a 156.09 quarterback rating. Extrapolating from that ranking, Trask has the sixth best returning rating in the Power 5.
So understandably, Dan Mullen isn’t overly concerned about his returning quarterback. There is one passer he’s admittedly worried about though, however prematurely.
“Both of [Kyle and Emory] have experience in games now. It’s great to have some experience. When you look, after that with Anthony [Richardson], he’s the one to me that missing spring right now, it’s going to be a little bit of a different curve.”
Richardson, the hometown true freshman, enrolled early but didn’t get to take advantage with spring practice after the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 canceled all events. But Richardson has time, there are two ahead of him to handle whatever sort of season we will see follow this unique offseason.
Kyle Trask has spent years preparing. Now he has a year of experience to help tinge his game. It’s a combination that provides a steadiness and bodes well for the Florida Gators.