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Florida quarterback Kyle Trask gets a lift from left tackle Stone Forsythe last Saturday night after Trask's 4-yard touchdown run with 4:11 remaining gave the Gators a 22-21 lead in their eventual 29-21 win at Kentucky. / Florida photo by Tim Casey

New Florida starting quarterback Kyle Trask will not be wearing a leather helmet during Saturday afternoon's game against visiting Tennessee, but would anybody be surprised if he did?

Amid a Southeastern Conference landscape in which seven graduate transfer quarterbacks have started at least one game this season and traditional transfers such as Jacob Eason and Justin Fields already had bid farewell to the league, Trask is the ultimate throwback. The 6-foot-5, 234-pound redshirt junior from Manvel, Texas, has worked his way from fourth to first on the depth chart during his stay in Gainesville, ascending to starting status last Saturday night when Feleipe Franks suffered a season-ending dislocated ankle.

The Gators trailed Kentucky 21-10 when Franks went down late in the third quarter, but Trask led Florida to 19 unanswered points and a 29-21 triumph. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 126 yards, and his 4-yard touchdown run with 4:11 remaining gave the Gators a 22-21 lead.

"He hasn't gotten the opportunities he wanted, but that never bothered him," Florida second-year coach Dan Mullen said this week in a news conference. "He kept taking care of his business and being prepared."

So prepared was Trask in Lexington that he guided the offense to 222 yards in just four possessions, turning the Kroger Field crowd from elated to solemn in the process.

"I was just trying to take advantage of my opportunity," Trask told reporters afterward.

While at Manvel High School, Trask backed up D'Eriq King, who is in his third season as Houston's starter, so Saturday will mark Trask's first start since he guided Manvel's junior varsity team in ninth grade. Due to his second-string status with Manvel, Trask was a three-star prospect in the 2016 recruiting cycle and the nation's 2,123rd overall pospect.

As a Florida freshman who redshirted in 2016, Trask was buried on the depth chart behind Austin Appleby, Luke Del Rio and Franks. Appleby was out of eligibility after the 2016 season, but Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire entered the picture in 2017 and kept Trask outside the top three for a second straight season.

Last November, Mullen benched a struggling Franks during a 38-17 home loss to Missouri and replaced him with Trask, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. The following week in practice, however, Trask sustained a season-ending foot injury, and Franks regrouped to lead the Gators to a 10-3 record.

Mullen met with Trask after last season to gauge whether he was seeking greener grass.

"Kyle was never that way," Mullen said. "He's a graduate of the University of Florida. He's getting his master's degree from the University of Florida. He sees the bigger picture in life."

Trask was asked Saturday night why he decided to stay put in such a transient world.

"I know the whole portal thing has been big, but this is one of the best schools in the country," he responded. "So why leave when I have a top-10 education, friends I love dearly and a team that is supportive of me? I didn't want to leave at all."

Mullen said this week that redshirt freshman Emory Jones will take some snaps against the Volunteers as well. The two are different in their abilities, with Jones a more elusive running threat, and Mullen is describing his quarterback landscape as going from "having two experienced backups to two inexperienced starters."

Florida is a two-touchdown favorite to win its 14th game against the Vols in 15 tries, but Mullen is not expecting an easy afternoon by any stretch.

"Their season didn't start the way they wanted it to," Mullen said, "but I think their BYU game looks a little different now after how BYU handled USC."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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