It will be a strange feeling for Kyle Trask on Saturday. One he hasn’t felt in nearly seven years.
The Gators’ redshirt junior will be a starting quarterback, once again.
But this opportunity wasn’t supposed to come. A former high school backup, Trask’s role on the team was supposed to be relegated to donning a headset, motioning hand signals from the sideline and waiting. A lot of waiting.
Waiting for UF to take a commanding lead on an FCS team so he could get a taste of being on the field, even if it was garbage time. It’s not ideal, but it’s the situation he found himself in.
After all, the Gators already had their guy.
Fellow redshirt junior Feleipe Franks was entrenched as the team’s starting quarterback, and for good reason. He had a breakout season in 2018, leading the team to a New Year’s Six Bowl for the first time in the College Football Playoff era. The Gators knocked off Michigan in the Peach Bowl, 41-15.
Throughout spring and fall camps, it was clear that Franks was the starter.
But that all changed Saturday night, when Franks’ season came to an end after injuring his ankle against Kentucky.
Trask’s number was called. He finally had his chance.
And he shined.
Florida trailed 21-10 when he entered the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Trask led the Gators on a 19-0 run, and they won 29-21. His presence sparked the comeback and preserved UF’s undefeated record and seven-game win streak.
Now, Trask prepares for his first collegiate start against Tennessee on Saturday. The eyes of the college football world are all on him now, but just a few short years ago, most FBS recruiters had no interest.
You have to go back further than college to find the last time Trask started a game. You could scroll through every game log from his time with the varsity team at Manvel High School and still not find it. That’s because the last time the signal-caller led an offense’s opening drive was on junior varsity, when he was a member of Manvel’s Freshman A team.
He impressed the Mavericks’ coaching staff his freshman year, starting every game. He was called up to varsity as a sophomore to compete for the starting job.
Trask had the arm. He had the accuracy. The only thing holding him back was another sophomore in the quarterback room: current-Houston quarterback D’Eriq King.
King has now become one of the best players in college football. He’s in the running for the Heisman Trophy, and his raw ability wasn’t lost on the Manvel coaches.
“(King) can do things with his feet people only can dream of,” Manvel offensive coordinator Kendrick Crumedy said. “He can make every throw on the field.”
King was a better fit than Trask in the Mavericks’ spread offense, and without a consistent running game, the coaches felt that King would make the offense more successful.
He won the job and never let go.
It’s hard to argue the coaches made the wrong decision. King had one of the most prolific careers in Texas high school history, breaking Kyler Murray’s 6A career passing touchdowns record of 117. But with King’s rise, Trask was forced to wait — something that would become a common theme throughtout his football career.
A third quarterback who competed with Trask and King decided to transfer, an option that could have appealed to Trask.
“Kyle could have started at any high school in the state of Texas,” Crumedy said.
But it wasn’t an option Trask considered. He stayed at Manvel, serving as King’s backup for the next three seasons.
“Kyle isn’t the type of kid that would transfer,” Crumedy said. “He’s a competitor.”
Being a backup quarterback is a strange job. It’s one Trask is all too familiar with.
Unlike being a backup linebacker or defensive lineman, where reserve players are rotated in throughout the game, quarterbacks who aren’t starting only see the field when there’s an injury to the starter or a game is out of hand.
Those terms rarely give backups a chance to showcase their abilities to recruiters, but Trask wasn’t deterred.
Crumedy said he prepared for every game as if he were the starter.
“Kyle just kept chopping wood, carrying water,” he said. “He’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever been around.”
Trask was the hardest worker in the weight room. He pushed his teammates, including King — his lifting partner — to improve.
“Kyle never complained,” receivers coach Greg Bennett said. “In fact, he made D’Eriq King better.”
Despite the hard work, the recruiting attention didn’t come.
It wasn’t due to a low profile, either. College coaches frequently stopped in Manvel to see top-tier talent like safety Deontay Anderson and tight end D’Vaughn Pennamon, both of whom signed with Ole Miss.
“Everybody in America came to Manvel,” Crumedy said.
The Mavericks coaching staff did everything they could to help Trask gain offers. They used him early on in games so he could get meaningful game film. They directed college scouts toward him in hopes that they would show interest.
College coaches watched Trask throw in practice and were blown away.
“Coaches were like, ‘oh my God, that kid can really throw the football,’” Crumedy said.
Then, those coaches found out Trask didn’t play.
Each time, the Manvel coaches heard the same thing: Nobody wanted to sign a backup quarterback.
Enter Doug Nussmeier.
The newly hired offensive coordinator under then-Florida coach Jim McElwain was looking to sign a quarterback after the Gators failed to land a commitment from one in the 2015 recruiting cycle.
Nussmeier made frequent trips to Manvel when he held the same role at Alabama, and in the spring of 2015, he attended a Mavericks spring practice. It was there that he first saw Trask.
Upon watching him sling the ball across the field on deep comeback routes, Nussmeier was impressed. But, like other coaches before him, he saw Trask’s role on the team as a red flag.
Unlike those other coaches, however, Nussmeier wanted to see more.
Trask was invited to camp in Gainesville in June and again in July. Both times, he backed up what he showed in practice. At the second camp, he received an offer.
“He earned it,” Bennett said.
On July 26th, Trask announced his commitment to the University of Florida. After that, the schools that had spurned him before began showing interest again.
“They started calling like, ‘who is this Kyle Trask kid?’” Crumedy said. “It’s the guy we told you (about) three months ago that you didn’t want to have anything to do with.”
Many quarterbacks want to be the only player at that position in a recruiting class. They take recruitment of another player as a vote of no confidence in their abilities.
Trask didn’t have the luxury of taking that approach.
His commitment to Florida never wavered. Not even when the Gators began recruiting Franks, one of the top quarterbacks in the nation.
“He isn’t going to run away from a challenge,” Crumedy said. “He didn’t care who they signed.”
Trask had to wait his turn at Florida, as well. He redshirted in 2016 and missed all of 2017 with an injury.
But the Manvel coaches still expected Trask to get his chance.
“He’s a worker bee,” Bennett said. “He’s going to find a way to get on the field.”
A graduate of UF with a degree in sports management, he could have transferred to any FBS school in the country with immediate eligibility. Just like in high school, he didn’t consider it.
“I think the whole portal thing in the past year or two has been a big thing,” he told the media Monday. “But this is one of the best schools in the country, so I figured why leave when I have a top 10 education, friends I love dearly, a football team that’s very supportive of me, and really I was just preparing every day as if I was the starter, as I should be. I took advantage of the opportunity I’m given.”
Trask served as Franks’ backup to begin 2018, but got his first extended playing time late in UF’s blowout loss to Missouri after a bad game from Franks. He led a touchdown drive against the Tigers, but injured his foot, which sidelined him for the rest of the season.
Like a DMV patron at lunchtime, Trask seemed doomed to wait.
“He’s approaching (being the backup) just like he did in high school: Supporting the guy in front of him and always staying ready,” Bennett said. “Kyle’s one of those throwback kind of guys.”
Now, the Gators need him to be ready. It’s his team, and Florida’s New Year’s Six aspirations hang on Trask’s ability to run the offense successfully.
But coach Dan Mullen and his staff believe in him. His teammates believe in him. Even fickle UF fans were converted by his impressive first meaningful outing.
The Manvel coaches — who believed in him most of all — aren’t surprised that he’s in this position. They knew he’d be starting at Florida one day.
It was just a question of when.
“They’re going to do a 30 for 30 on ESPN about how he was a backup quarterback in high school,” Crumedy said, “and how his coaches must have been idiots to not play him.
Follow Tyler Nettuno on Twitter @TylerNettuno. Contact him at [email protected].