GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Two months ago, redshirting appeared to be a forgone conclusion for Feleipe Franks.
On Saturday, Florida’s true freshman quarterback may find himself behind center trying to the lead the Gators to an SEC East title.
Back on Sept. 10, the UF offense was riding high after a 45-7 win over Kentucky and a 320-yard passing performance from starter Luke Del Rio. Oh how times have changed.
Del Rio is now out indefinitely with a shoulder injury and Florida just had its worst offensive performance of the season.
“We need a spark,” Gators coach Jim McElwain said Wednesday, “and Feleipe could be that guy.”
Austin Appleby is starting Saturday against South Carolina, but the graduate transfer was inconsistent in his two games earlier this year. Franks will be the backup quarterback and could see the field Saturday, regardless of how Appleby does.
“I know this, we’re not afraid at any point of him playing,” McElwain said of Franks, who’s unlikely to redshirt now with Del Rio out.
RELATED: Get to know Gators QB Feleipe Franks
This time last year, Florida was still trying to land a commitment from Franks. He had been pledged to LSU since the summer of 2014, but attended three UF games in November and flipped to the Gators after their regular season finale against Florida State.
“It’s recruiting,” McElwain said of flipping Franks. “We were recruiting him and basically when we got here he had already been committed. But we just stayed persistent and I’m excited that he chose to come here. He’s got a bright future.”
Franks had a stellar senior season at Wakulla High School in Crawfordville, Fla. He led his team to the Class 5A state championship game and finished the year with 2,766 passing yards and 35 touchdowns with a 58 percent completion rate and just 2 interceptions.
That was all raw ability, too. Franks did not have a quarterback coach or offensive coordinator at Wakulla, nor did he work out with a private QB coach. Franks still became an Elite 11 finalist and U.S. Army All-American.
“Here’s what I like about the guy, he was a three-sport athlete (in high school),” McElwain said. “He wasn’t one of these guys that was groomed in all of that stuff they do now year round.
“He competed every time a season rolled around. Yet, with that, there’s some things that he needs to continue to work on. That’s why I would say probably his ceiling is pretty high.”
However, Franks’ last two football “games” did not go well. He completed just 1 of his 7 pass attempts and had a pair of picks in the Army Bowl. Then in Florida’s spring game, Franks was 5 of 11 for 54 yards with three interceptions and a late touchdown.
But Franks has cut down on turnovers in practice and made significant strides since the spring, according to Gators wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood.
“Controlling his mistakes,” Fulwood said when asked how Franks has improved. “When you come in at first, you want to just make big plays all the time. But he realized every throw doesn’t have to be an 80-yard bomb.
“He started making the right reads and started making less mistakes, and that was when you could see he was really improving as a quarterback.”
McElwain has seen it as well, which is why Franks earned the backup job. And if his number is called on, McElwain has confidence in the 6-foot-6 gunslinger.
“I think his upside is huge,” McElwain said. “He’s more comfortable verbage wise. Obviously has a heck of an arm and sometimes that arm gets him in trouble. He tries to force it sometimes, right? But he can get away with it sometimes, too.”
“He continues to work mechanically to shorten his stroke and understand where to go with it. … Sometimes he’ll try to fit it in, but at the same time he’s got a good grasp of what we’re trying to do.”
Feleipe Franks ladies and gentlemen. Enjoy. https://t.co/AlIsugsbwk
— Trey Ocho (@_TreyOcho) November 8, 2016