The measure of a man is the sum of his parts.
Like a stained glass window, each piece can be its own entity but each as necessary as the other to create an entire work of art. For Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks, those parts have seemed fragmented at times; fans looking at one but not the other, missing the whole picture in the process.
“It just warms my heart that somebody as simple as me—can make someone’s day."
Now heading into his redshirt junior year, Franks has become Florida’s most stable quarterback since Tim Tebow. He’s won the job fair and square, there is no doubt to his position as leader and after a lot of toiling, he has the support of an oft fickle fan base—again, something no Florida quarterback since Tebow has been able to say with conviction. And for as much as his performance on the field went into this growth, it’s his presence off the field that has made the biggest impact.
The University of Florida is notoriously one of the hardest places in the country to play quarterback. There are bronze statues and larger than life banners at every turn, reminding those young passers the legacy they’re expected to surpass. Many have tried; few have succeeded. The microscope on the position, at times is more discerning off the field than on, meaning every aspect of the quarterbacks life is scrutinized. It’s an area of the game that Franks admits was tough to adjust to, but one he intentionally worked on this offseason.
“I try to set goals for different off-seasons…I think my emphasis for this season as opposed to last season was more to continue to build to become a leader. You always want to work on accuracy and that’s every year. At the same time you want to be more efficient as a quarterback and in everything I do, whether it be off the field leader or in the community; whether it be in the building, greeting somebody saying, ‘hey, how is your day?’ I just want to build relationships outside of the my teammates…. just being a better person than I have been in the past.
“It was [tougher in years past]. You have to come out of your comfort zone. I had to get out of my comfort zone stepping into the University of Florida; that comes with playing the quarterback position. Getting out of your comfort zone being open to everybody else…thats what came through my mind, start greeting people as I walk through the hallways, make somebody’s day when you’re at Publix or somewhere like that. Make people’s days when you don’t realize it…I mean when you make somebody’s day it makes your heart warm.”
It’s an insightful, mature approach to a position that requires both. As such, after three years the Florida fan base is truly getting to know their quarterback for the first time. To know a man though, you have to understand the parts that make him who he is; the parts that can be mutually exclusive, like in that stained glass window, but are forged together intricately.
So to know Feleipe Franks, you have to know Jordan. You have to know Jade.
And you have to know Jenna.
Let’s start with Jordan.
Feleipe is two years shy of his older brother Jordan; close enough in age to have spent childhood together but far enough apart that it didn’t take long for Jordan to become a hero to his younger brother.
“He’s my brother. He knows me best,” reflects Feleipe.
“He just knows me better than anybody.”
In Wakulla County, Florida, sandwiched between Tallahassee and the Gulf Coast, the Franks brothers grew up with three horses, five acres and countless hours of figuring out the game of football together. They played together in middle school and high school, the quarterback and the tight end, with dreams of doing the same in college. Life took a different path as it’s apt to do, with Jordan ending up at UCF and Feleipe taking the reins in Gainesville. Jordan is now heading into his second season in the NFL with the Cincinatti Bengals.
One thing has remained the same though; whenever possible, the two rotate back to each other.
After Jordan’s rookie season wrapped in Cincinnati, he drove to Gainesville and moved in with his brother. Each day they’d follow the same routine; breakfast, go over plays, workout, get some balls in, come back to walk the dog, go over more plays and then rehab. In the time of life that speeds by faster then you can keep up, it gave both brothers a tether.
“I just feel like that’s what I been doing my whole life. I mean it’s worked out for me so I feel like it’s no reason for me to change it up,” Jordan explains to GatorBait.
“It’s nice to go back to be honest. It just feels like I’m back at home.”
Feleipe agrees: “That’s like my partner. He did his separate thing with his trainer, because I had summer workouts, as well. But when it came down to when we’d throw he would go out there and throw with like Freddie [Swain], all the receivers, he would be out there too throwing with us, too. Just a good time for him to go out and get repetitions, as well.”
His experience in the league was been soaked up by both Feleipe and Gators receivers who joined the offseason workouts.
“It’ll make him a better athlete, stuff I can bring to him from the NFL and stuff I can ask our quarterbacks to tell him; how they look at the game, how he should look at the game sometimes. Even though I want him to do his own thing cause everybody’s different. I mean it’s nice,” says Jordan.
Even when Jordan is in Ohio—like he is now—he’s the voice that Feleipe is most tuned to, especially when he needs his brother to drown out all the noise.
“When [fans] booed him that week [against Missouri] he was just all down and he didn’t understand why,” recalls Jordan.
“Cause no one knows how much work goes into playing quarterback. Obviously you see they get paid so much in the NFL and there’s a reason for that. And no one sees the work and he was like ‘why are they booing me?’ And he was young, he was like 20. And I just told him, ‘you know that’s part of the game, especially where you’re at and the position you play.’
“But I was like, ‘if I was you, I would just tune them out, stay in your quarterback room. Obviously they’re gonna start Kyle so just pick him up.’ Cause the way our motto is, we’re not gonna try to downgrade somebody so we can play. The way we both see it is we’re always gonna help somebody that’s ahead of us cause the ultimate run is gonna help us do what we gotta do too. So he was in there with Kyle [Trask] studying and obviously what happened to Kyle was unfortunate with his foot at the time. And he went in and Kyle supported him, and he went in and did his thing and the rest is history.”
The following Saturday, Jordan saw his brother turn the corner to becoming the quarterback the Gators needed. In a 35-31 win over South Carolina, Feleipe scored two rushing touchdowns, shushed his own home crowd after both and seemingly never looked back at the kid questioning it all.
“The point I realized he understood, not football but understood I guess you say life, is when he shushed the crowd. Now I’ll say he probably shouldn’t have done that but you could see, you can see he took pride in what he did and he wasn’t gonna back down just because someone booed him or wanted him off the stage.”
When all was said and done, Feleipe finished the season with 2,819 all purpose yards and 31 touchdowns (24 passing/seven rushing) to only six interceptions. It’s the best statistical performance by a Gators quarterback since Tim Tebow in 2009 (3,805 AP yards, 35 touchdowns, five interceptions).
There’s another role that’s taken precedence in his life though; one of uncle.
That brings us to Jade.
Jordan’s daughter is still just a tot but she can spot her Uncle Feleipe from across the practice field. With bouncy curls and big brown eyes, she lights up when she sees his tall frame striding her way. It’s a look only rivaled by the one on the passers face when he realizes Jade is waiting for him on the sideline. It took some adjusting for the two to arrive at this point, but now there’s no tearing them apart.
“First time that [Feleipe] met her, I brought him to Orlando,” remembers Jordan.
“He was kinda, I wouldn’t say scared but he was like ‘durn’ cause he was always the baby of the family. I don’t think he’d ever even really held a baby before. So it was kinda new to him so it was just funny to see his reaction. But he’s good with kids which is crazy, a lot of people don’t know. But he’s really good with kids. Once he got warmed up to it, like favorite uncle.”
While at SEC Media Days this summer, Feleipe lit up when asked about Jade, crediting his smiley niece with some of the change is his more mature demeanor. While he won’t be able to carry her in his arms into a game like he does walking into practice, there’s little doubt the small life has already had a major impact. It can be seen in the gentleness with which the quarterback addresses the younger fans (albeit, something his family says has always been a strength of his), and it’s evidenced in the way he takes responsibility for those around him.
Dan Mullen has never been perturbed by the fact that Feleipe is an emotional guy. Even after a dominating Peach Bowl win, the magnitude of the day led Franks to take a moment on the bench, unabashedly letting the tears roll down his face before going to celebrate with teammates. Mullen feels one of the tricks to making Franks a good quarterback was the passer learning how to use that to his advantage. Off the field, Feleipe is letting it drive him more as well. He’s exhibited a cognizant deliberateness that has reverberated throughout the Gators program. Those close to the team talk of a camaraderie that hasn’t existed in their time—some nearing a decade. It’s present now though, fueling a team thanks in large part to the effort Feleipe has put in to connect with each and every person on his roster.
It speaks of a heart that was overlooked during a tumultuous season but is seen more as it’s motivated the redshirt junior.
It speaks to Jenna.
Jenna is from Feleipe’s hometown. The latter describes her as high spirited and super awesome. She’s also lived a lot longer than she was ever expected to, due to her down syndrome. Each of those extra days though helped shape the young boy that would become the Gators quarterback.
“When we were younger even before high school, I played travel baseball with her brother and she would always be there and sit next to me. She just loved me so we kinda built a relationship,” explains Feleipe.
She calls him “SeePay,” a memory that makes Franks grin when recalling. She was at every sporting event he had growing up when possible. After he moved to Gainesville, the two’s time became more sparse. There were days though, when due to different associated reasons, Jenna would find herself at Shands Hospital just a stone’s throw from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. And on those days, Feleipe would find himself making the quick trip to see her.
“She’ll be laying in the bed obviously, but she’ll just have high spirits, whatever she does so she’s kinda just a spirit picker-upper for me.”
Adds Jordan, “Every time [Jenna] sees [Feleipe] she just smiles and brightens her day up. I wanna say before I left [for Cincinatti] we actually ran into her and he was just talking to her for like 10 minutes. It was kinda funny. I seen her, I went outside to the truck to tell him that she was in there so he walked back in and he was just like messing around with her for like 10 minutes.”
The moment was mirrored at another point this summer when the two brothers were leaving a Gainesville Walmart. A little boy, finishing up his stay at Shands, was leaving the store with his dad when he saw his hero just ahead. The son and father stopped Jordan and asked if that really was Feleipe Franks. Jordan said yes and asked them to wait while Feleipe pulled the truck around.
The meeting left the quarterback with a new friend and profound lesson.
“He had two open heart surgeries and he was only like 12 or so. He literally looked like a normal kid. He was walking by with his dad and I kind of seen them from my eye, kind of starring at me as I walked by. That’s somebody I could have said hello to and didn’t know it…but he met me outside and got his bracelet and told him I would take him to dinner anytime he wanted. Kind of getting him around people on the team and stuff.”
Feleipe still wears the little boy’s bracelet and has set plans in motion to make that dinner happen. As he walks through town now, stopping to create a memory for those that just want to be near their favorite player, it harkens back to those days sitting on the bleachers next to Jenna, realizing the impact he could have on someone else.
“I think that’s kinda where it started at—kinda inspiring others and then when I get the opportunity, that’s kinda I think where it started at but it’s grown so much from that point. But these kids that don’t have the same—not the same opportunities, but don’t have whether it be the ability or things like that, you wanna go and make their day and you wanna make ‘em feel loved like they are. I think it’s just super special when you can go and make an impact on somebody’s day.
“It just warms my heart that somebody as simple as me, somebody as simple as all these other guys can make someone’s day like that. It’s just super heartwarming. You would be a fool to have a platform like this and not do something like this.”
The measure of a man is the sum of his parts.
Feleipe Franks is many things; quarterback, son, brother, student, leader. But he’s also a reflection of Jordan and Jade and Jenna; the change they’ve wrought on his life and he on theirs.