Florida QB Feleipe Franks looks to make a star turn in Year 2 under Dan Mullen
Franks turned around his career in 2018, but can he turn around Florida in 2019?
HOOVER, Ala. -- There are three figures outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium who should intimidate the hell out of Feleipe Franks.
As you wind down Gale Lemerand Drive beside The Swamp, you cannot help but see the statues commemorating Florida's three Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks: Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow.
"I want a fourth statue," Franks said Monday at the 2019 SEC Media Days.
That, of course, qualifies as an outlandish statement to plenty of folks. Some of those folks aren't even Florida fans.
For most of his career, the Gators' redshirt junior quarterback has been his own fans' favorite punching bag.
You see, it's a high bar for any Florida quarterback when those three hunks of bronze stand as a daily reminder: You're (probably) not good enough.
But a combination of maturation, realization and standardization have made Franks, let's say, at least a factor in an SEC suddenly loaded with quarterbacks this season.
You'd still like Franks to complete 60 percent of his passes in a season. (He hasn't accomplished that yet.) You'd like him to be more of a runner. There is evidence that is coming.
Mostly, 2018 was quarterback-making coach Dan Mullen working his wizardry with Franks.
"My quarterback magic dust?" Mullen joked, pretending to reach into a jacket pocket to sprinkle something around the room.
That and Franks finally seeing his performance reach the level of his work ethic.
"I like that. I love that quote," running back Lamical Perine said. "He's probably one of the hardest workers on the team. When we have stadium runs, he's the first ones to finish. He's strong in the weight room. [He does] a lot of talking. That's good. That's usually [the case] for a competitive player like him."
Yeah, but if you can't back it up …
Even in a 2018 that saw Franks throw for an efficient 24 touchdowns against six interceptions, he was yanked in a horrible performance -- by all of the Gators -- a 38-17 home loss to Missouri. It appeared as if Franks would be replaced as the starter the following week by Kyle Trask … except Trask suffered a season-ending foot injury while practicing a trick play as he planned to make his first career start against South Carolina.
With Franks right back behind center the next week, a fuse was lit. Franks totaled three touchdowns against the Gamecocks (two rushing) and even shushed his home fans, silencing the haters at least temporarily.
Florida won its last four games, finishing with 10 wins for only the second time since 2012. Franks' passer rating never dipped below 134 in those four games, including liberating performances against Florida State and Michigan.
"It shows that it's working what we're doing," Mullen said. "It shows that he's listening. For him to cap off the last two games, him running the ball changed the last two games.
"When there's no one there, you can run up the middle for a 20-yard touchdown. You can jump up and shush the crowd. You can have fun like you have all the answers."
Mullen doesn't have to explain himself. This is what he does. Going back to Alex Smith at Utah, he has also produced the likes of Brian Johnson (a 66 percent passer at Utah and his current quarterbacks coach), Tebow, Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald.
"How we set up the program really develops quarterbacks well," Mullen said. "We run a really quarterback-friendly offense. And I think once a guy understands what his skill set is …"
Until last season, Franks seemed limited. In his second career start, he launched that legendary 63-yard bomb to beat Tennessee in 2017. By the time Mullen inherited him, the shine had worn off the four-star prospect who was the No. 5 pro-style QB out of Crawfordville High School.
"Big, athletic, got a big arm," Mullen said of Franks. "A guy that didn't have a great understanding of what his skill set is to become a better player. I think he had a stereotypical thought of what he was supposed to be as a quarterback. 'I'm not a dual threat; I'm a pro-style quarterback.' But can you run? 'But Rivals.com [says] I'm a pro-style quarterback.' But dude, you're 6-foot-6, 245 [pounds]. You're pretty athletic. Use that to your advantage sometimes."
Opposing defenses and Florida fans have taken their turns at intimidation, so what's a few statues? Franks claims to have never heard much of the crap that was slung at him. His Twitter follows are mostly family members. He doesn't get into social media wars. Life's too short and all that.
His personal throwing coach was YouTube.
"I used to watch Tom Brady, all those guys," Franks said.
Mostly, he is pleasantly unassuming. Asked if the Peach Bowl win over Michigan was cathartic, Franks said, "That's a big word. What does 'cathartic' mean?"
It means blowing out Michigan 41-15, accounting for 240 yards in total offense and running for that 20-yard touchdown Mullen was referencing.
"I've always wanted to be the person with confetti," Franks said. "You see people with the confetti falling on them."
Franks got his reward but it should be noted: As part of the College Football Playoff's standardized game presentation, the all the New Year's Six Bowl winners are automatically showered with confetti.
That work ethic has at least served Franks well. Teammates will almost always come down on the side of respect if a guy is putting in the work.
"I was pretty far down [just] not confidence-wise," Franks said. "I never questioned too much of my confidence. I wondered, 'When is the production going to start coming? … When is the production going to get there and meet the work ethic?'"
There are questions to match the aspirations in 2019. It's still quite a leap from 10 wins and finishing second in the SEC East to getting past Georgia to the SEC Championship Game.
Franks uses as inspiration his older brother Jordan. UCF was one of Jordan's few offers out of high school. After 43 catches in 27 career games, Jordan hooked on the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad last season as an undrafted free agent. When injuries hit, Jordan was promoted to the 53-man roster.
"It's kind of like a story of an underdog," the younger Franks said.
That's exactly the label for Florida's current starting quarterback, particularly if his accomplishments can lead to a fourth bronze statue on Gale Lemerand Drive.
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