Florida Gators Quarterback Kyle Trask, the Epitome of Dedication
In order to best understand what makes Florida Gators quarterback Kyle Trask such a unique figure in college football, it's best to learn about his roots.
Of course, Trask acknowledges and appreciates roots. He isn't the type to dig up and plant elsewhere when things get tough. Rather, he remains where his seeds are and grows.
That's the type of mindset that put Trask in a position to take over Florida's quarterback position on Sept. 14, 2019. On that day, starter Feleipe Franks suffered a season-ending dislocated ankle injury in Lexington, Ky., while facing SEC rival Kentucky.
Trask had spent the previous six years of his life waiting for the moment his name would be called. Of course, he never wished for it to happen in the form of his friend and counterpart suffering an injury, but at that moment, Trask was ready.
"Feleipe gets hurt and it’s kind of like the whole sideline just, absolutely quiet. You can hear a pin drop," Trask told Sports Illustrated - AllGators on Monday, recalling that moment.
"Everyone is kind of just shook, I kind of took it upon myself to just, you know obviously it’s really just a terrible thing that happened to Feleipe, but at the end of the day we’re still here in a hostile environment, and we came here to win the game," said Trask. "That’s what I was trying to tell my teammates and really just get them to lock back in for the rest of the game, and it kind of went from there.”
Down 21-10 to Kentucky at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Trask entered in relief of Franks for the second time in his career, other than in mop-up duty.
The first came in a blowout loss to Missouri in Gainesville, Florida, the year prior when Franks was benched after a 9-of-22 performance. Trask looked good enough to unseat Franks moving forward after posting 126 yards and a touchdown on 10-of-18 passing, but a non-contact foot injury in practice that following week quickly curbed Trask's opportunity.
Franks narrowly escaped with his starting job that week, and as Trask rehabbed and got back to the field following his injury, he was back to square one. Franks finished the 2018 season with positive momentum that carried into 2019, and Trask's chances at a starting role were right back to where they had been since his sophomore year of high school.
Kirk Martin had a problem entering the summer of 2013. A good problem, in fact, probably the best problem you can have as a head football coach.
He had too many quarterbacks on his roster at Manvel High School, about 30 minutes south of Houston, Texas. Nine quarterbacks, to be exact, and while most of them weren't made out for the position, there were a few that were.
First, there was Trask, who was entering his sophomore year with varsity hopes after spending his first season as the Freshman A-team's signal-caller. Trask offered Martin a sense of familiarity, despite his young age compared to some of his fellow quarterbacks.
“I’d known Kyle since he was in seventh grade, I had coached his older brother... and I knew Kyle was special way back then," Martin told AllGators. "He could really spin it, early, early on, and I knew he was going to be a great player."
But in order to become a great player, Trask had to beat out his competition. A serviceable rising senior, a "left-handed kid with a big arm" as Martin put it, who stood at 6-foot-5 and had just transferred in, and a couple of others stood in Trask's way of carrying his starter label from the freshman team to varsity football.
Then all of a sudden, D'Eriq King, a rising sophomore and now a member of the Miami Hurricanes, transferred to Manvel with his older brother, a linebacker, both hailing from Westbury Christian High School. The two of them showed up for the first day of two-a-days in August, and D'Eriq took off running.
He only stood at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds as a high school prospect, but King fit the style of offense that Martin wanted to run better than anyone in the group. King offered the mobility that Trask and the others could not, which better suited the run-pass-option and quarterback run plays that Martin tended to call.
"So Kyle, I thought he was right with those two guys, he didn’t run near as well a D’Eriq," said Martin. "And the senior, I thought Kyle was better than the senior, so I really thought it was a competition between him and D’Eriq, but I felt like I needed to give the senior the nod [at backup quarterback]."
Even though he wasn't around for spring scrimmages or summer camp, King quickly proved what he was worth and earned the starting role for Manvel. Two kids were moved to another position before the team's first scrimmage, including the lefty who ended up transferring out of Manvel.
After further competition, Martin had his competition down to two quarterbacks—King and the senior. Trask was relegated to junior varsity, where he started and was called up to varsity on occasion and in the playoffs.
King carried the momentum of a starting role into his junior year, and it appeared that Trask would ascend into the primary, varsity backup role.
According to Martin, that may not have been enough for Michael Trask, Kyle's father. As most parents would in such a situation, Michael believed that Kyle was a starting-caliber quarterback. He looked into finding a new school for Kyle, to which coach Martin was willing to help and point the Trask family in the right direction.
Therefore, Martin called Kyle into his office the very next day to discuss his options and process. The young quarterback sat back, soaked up everything that his coach had to say, and rebutted.
"Coach Martin," the former Manvel head coach recalled, "As long as you’re going to afford me the opportunity to compete for the job - listen, I was born and raised in Manvel, Texas. I’m not going anywhere. I don’t know what my dad is talking about, but as long as you’re going to let me compete for the job, if D’Eriq King is better than me he is going to have to prove it."
King proved it, yet Trask was a man of his word.
He remained at Manvel for the rest of his high school career as King's backup, earning playing time on every third and fifth drive of a given game. He finished his varsity career by completing 73% of his passes, for 1,737 yards, 17 touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
Trask noted that there were conversations regarding transferring, but nothing more. Melissa Charba, his mother, wouldn't stand for it.
"She’s kind of old school," Trask said of his mother. "She was like, ‘Well, this is where we live, and this is where you’re going to go to school’, so, that ended up teaching me a lot about dedication. I think it really helped me in the end.”
After checking into the Kentucky game during his redshirt junior season at Florida, Trask immediately found chemistry with wide receiver Van Jefferson, a veteran of the receiver room known for his route-running prowess. The two connected three times across Trask's five passing attempts when he took over for Franks with 14:49 left in the fourth quarter.
Jefferson ended with six receptions for 52 yards across seven targets from Trask that night.
Trask finished the game 9-of-13 passing for 126 yards, adding a four-yard go-ahead rushing touchdown that left Kentucky with 4:11 left and one point needed to seal a victory at home. A 35-yard missed field goal from the Wildcats' Chance Poore, instead, practically capped off Trask and Florida's comeback victory.
It wasn't hard for Trask to find chemistry with other receivers, either. He connected with receivers Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain, as well as tight end Kyle Pitts, across his nine completions. Trask's preparation in a backup role for six years up until that point had him ready to step up.
"Even as the backup, I always prepared like I was the starter," said Trask. "I never wanted something like that to happen, and I go out there on the field with no clue what I’m doing, I don’t want to embarrass myself out there, so obviously I’m going to prepare to the best of my ability, even if I was the backup."
Quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson has made that mindset the expectation of his room. Franks, Trask and Emory Jones all received practice reps with the first team throughout spring and fall camp, and into the season in order to remain prepared for anything.
Trask had been working his entire career for this moment, and he was ready for it.
"He carried himself like he was the starter," Johnson spoke of Trask. "One of the things we always talk about is, regardless of who is playing behind center, that standard of play does not change."
Trask went on to post the most productive season from a Florida quarterback since Tim Tebow threw for 3,286 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2007. In 12 appearances and ten starts, Trask completed 66.9% of his passes for 2,941 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Tebow threw more touchdowns (30) in Florida's 2008 national championship season than Trask did in 2019, but Trask edged Tebow out on passing yards (2,746).
"He’s a guy that has always played with great timing and anticipation, and has always had a natural feel for the game," said Johnson. "He can see things before they happen, he’s an accurate thrower, he’s big, he can move around, and make stuff happen."
Considering the recent prevalence of the NCAA transfer portal, especially at the quarterback position, Trask is a bit unique in college football. The 22-year-old signal-caller had opportunities to move to a new high school where he could have taken over as a starter, and perhaps he could have found similar opportunities after a couple of years developing at Florida.
Trask had played well in his limited opportunities during the 2018 season, and had the support of the coaching staff given his approach to a backup role. The chances that a school would have brought him in to compete to start were high, but much like in high school, Trask decided to stick to his roots.
Martin recalled Trask's recruiting conversations being very short after he had committed to Florida, although he'd tell coaches that one day ESPN would create a "30 for 30" story after Trask's 14th year in the NFL.
Given Trask's backup role and somewhat limited film, Florida's previous offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, was taking a bit of a risk by offering a backup quarterback a scholarship after two camp appearances, and Trask was grateful.
"Kyle is the most loyal person you’ll ever meet," said Martin. "When he told coach Nuss that he was committing to Florida, he meant it."
Nussmeier offered Trask on July 25, 2015. He went home and slept on the offer that day, Martin says, and committed the next morning. Other schools followed suit, but Trask didn't have any interest after picking Florida.
"I mean, Alabama called," said Martin. "He had no interest."
As Trask said himself, the dedication that his mother taught him ended up paying off. Entering his redshirt senior season, his first where it is presumed he will be the starting quarterback, Trask owns 30/1 Heisman odds.
"I’m proud of him sticking around, especially in this era, you don’t see that too often in a quarterback room," Johnson praised. "If you know him on a personal level, it’s not really a shock at all, but I could see how someone who didn’t and just kind of felt the landscape of quarterbacks over the last couple of years and how much it’s changed, it is kind of refreshing to have a room like that."
Trask will be remembered for leading Florida to the 2019 Orange Bowl, Dan Mullen's second consecutive New Year's Six Bowl after being named Florida's head coach. His performance in those 10 starts made him a Manning Award and Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award finalist, and he was named to the All-SEC third team.
It's not clear what will come next for Trask, or college football in general amidst the coronavirus, but his unique rise to stardom can also present an alternate line of thinking to those who look to the transfer portal if a position battle doesn't go their way whenever the next whistle blows.
"I would say the main thing that people, because I know there are situations that are happening right now, they happen all the time, I’d say the biggest thing is you always have to have confidence in yourself," Trask claimed. "You know deep down that you’re going to be able to get the job done when your number gets called. You know, eventually, you’re going to get your shot."