Kyle Trask received a FaceTime call in the locker room from Danny Wuerffel last weekend, congratulating him on breaking his high school record for one season.
In other circumstances the call would have attracted more attention, an unofficial welcome to the elite Florida quarterback club if you will. But the Gators had just lost at home to LSU in a staggering way, and the performance became a footnote.
Instead, anyone who wants to talk about getting into Saturday’s SEC championship game between Florida and Alabama wants to talk about how the Gators can recover from their worst performance of the season greatest Game of the season.
Oh, and the shoe. A lot of talk about the shoe.
Florida manager Dan Mullen tried his best to put the Gators’ 37-34 defeat behind him this week. He said: “We have the opportunity to fight for a championship. I think our boys will be excited to go play.” “”
However, there are real questions about how such a brutal loss and some previous underperformance will affect the Gators against the undisputed # 1 team in the country. Trask may have thrown his 40th touchdown pass of the season against LSU, breaking the mark set by Würzel in 1996, but he has also thrown two interceptions. Mullen pointed to multiple red zone failures as contributing factors to the loss.
With all that said, there’s one big reason the Gators will have a chance on Saturday: Trask himself.
Forget about the latest Heisman watch lists and what happened last weekend. Trask has one last chance to experience his Heisman moment with a mic drop performance against the tide.
Florida fans are ready for it. A few weeks ago someone left a poster board in front of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium next to the three Heisman statues of Steve Spurrier, Wuerffel and Tim Tebow that said “Kyle Trask, Quarterback 2016-2020, Heisman Trophy Winner 2020”.
– Scott Carter (@GatorsScott) November 26, 2020
Trask would never say this himself, of course, by diverting any talk about the Heisman Trophy and routing it back to his teammates. But he saw the sign going into the soccer field.
“I thought it was pretty funny,” he said in an interview with ESPN. “Ultimately, I’m obviously not focusing on what the team needs, but on what the team needs.”
What the team needs is the best of their career and a little help from the defense. (OK, lots of help from the defense.) If Trask gets through his chances of winning the Heisman will increase. He’s currently number 3 on ESPN.com’s latest Heisman Watch. The two players above him: Alabama recipient DeVonta Smith and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones.
That he’s even in the Heisman discussion is a win in itself, considering how his career began.
As a boy who grew up in a football-obsessed house in Texas with a grandfather who played for the Houston Oilers, Trask switched to quarterback and at one point decided to wear number 15 in middle school because of Tebow – the Gators quarterback – watching how he won national championships in 2006 and 2008. Seeing Tebow inspired him to maybe one day be like Tebow, though achieving that goal seemed almost unattainable in high school.
Trask was backing up his high school years and only receiving FCS offers when then Florida Defense Coordinator Randy Shannon mentioned to then coach Jim McElwain that they should check out Trask after doing some recruiting in Texas. Florida urgently needed help with the quarterback, who had turned into a productivity wasteland after Tebow left. Every successive player, from John Brantley to Jeff Driskel to Tyler Murphy to Treon Harris, made the Heisman Trophy winners that Florida wagered with Tebow, Wuerffel and Spurrier feel like they were in an alternate universe. The once high-flying crime of the Gators turned into a mess with no identity.
With his strong offensive background, McElwain was hired in large part in December 2014 to reverse the Florida quarterback funk and restore one of the only acceptable traditions for the soccer team – an elite bellboy and many (and many) goals. He seemed to hit that with Will Grier, who led the Gators to a 6-0 start and 11th place in 2015. However, Grier was banned for the season after testing positive for a banned substance in October and eventually being relegated to Gators and McElwain rebuilding a quarterback plan with the 2016 class.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen stands on the podium to discuss the 2020 SEC championship game against Alabama.
The headliner in the class was Feleipe Franks, a four-star ESPN 300 recruit who moved from LSU to Florida late in the recruiting process. But McElwain pointed to a player much lower down the signatory ladder named Kyle Trask, just above kicker Eddy Pineiro. “Just keep an eye on this kid,” McElwain told a reporter on signing day in 2016. “He’s going to be special.”
Heisman Trophy Winner Special?
“Geez, no,” McElwain said with a laugh in a recent interview with ESPN from his Central Michigan office, where he is now the head coach. “I don’t think either of us ever thought that, but it wasn’t reach in our minds either.”
When Trask arrived on campus in the summer of 2016, the coaches saw that he was the physical size (6-foot-5, 211 pounds as a recruit) to play quarterback. What he needed was the right system and a chance he wasn’t given in high school. The number that happened to him when he arrived? # 11 that belonged to another Heisman winner in Florida: Spurrier.
Right. At some point in his life, Trask wore the two most famous numbers in Florida school history. Despite growing up with Texas A&M, Trask says Florida “has always been a dream school for me”.
“You are a kid, you watch Tim Tebow win the national championship and you want to be like him when you grow up, to play in this field where so many legends have played and for Steve Spurriers Wearing numbers is really great, “said Trask.
Channeling Tebow and Spurrier wasn’t exactly his plan. Trask just wanted the chance to win the starting job. In its first few seasons, Trask showed potential lightning bolts in practice in several places. “I knew I could do all the throws,” he said.
But injuries have limited those efforts. When McElwain was laid off in the middle of the 2017 season, Trask remained a backup. For the second consecutive hiring, Florida turned to another former offensive coordinator with a long history in quarterback development. Only that employee – Mullen – had worked as a coordinator in Florida and developed Tebow before leaving in 2009 as head coach for the state of Mississippi.
Alluding to the most successful seasons in school history, Mullen said under his former boss Urban Meyer and Spurrier that he will bring the Gators back to their high-profile offensive philosophy during his introductory press conference.
When Trask emerged as a starter last season – due to an injury to Franks at the end of the season – the seeds were planted to get there. Florida made it to a New Year’s Six Bowl game, defeating Virginia in the Orange Bowl, announcing 2020 could be the year of the Gators. When Trask and his teammates returned to campus months later because of the coronavirus pandemic, they built on the chemistry they’d started showing off in the second half of 2019.
This was evident in a 51:35 win over Ole Miss at the start of the season, when Trask threw 416 yards and six touchdowns, including four against Kyle Pitts. Florida has accumulated 642 yards, a school record for the total number of yards in an intra-conference game. Trask, Pitts, and the Offense continued from there, in a historic twist that’s not quite over. Florida is currently number 1 in the nation for yards per game (386.4 yards) and Trask leads the nation with 40 touchdown passes. He also linked the school record for the most 300-yard passing games against SEC teams with eight, moving to Rex Grossman, who did so under Spurrier in 2001. Trask is the only quarterback in school history with four 400 yard passing games.
“I have high standards for our quarterback,” said Mullen. “We are a very quarterback based offense, what we impose on them, what we ask of the quarterback, [it is] In this way a pro style offense. He had a great year, and I know Florida fans are sure to get excited about it. The only thing you know about Gator fans is points and explosive crime. I know they enjoyed the points we made this year. “
So it’s safe to say that Trask can put himself in a position to win the Heisman with a Heisman-worthy performance and possibly get Florida into the college football playoffs. Despite losing two, the Gators fell just one place to seventh on the current standings, and it could be difficult for the committee to skip the SEC champion with a win against # 1 Alabama.
“Our main goal at the start of the season is championships, SEC championships and national championships. We have a great group of people and we all believe that,” said Trask. “It would not be a good standard for me to concentrate on individual awards.”
It has at least helped restore a standard. McElwain had the opportunity to watch Trask play from home this season. Although he’s no longer there, McElwain was directly involved in helping the Gators return to Atlanta because he brought along players like Trask and Pitts.
“You know what interests me when I watch Kyle [Trask]It’s the same path as he goes through his progress, “said McElwain.” You could almost see the action, reaction, and checkdown. He has such a good understanding of what they’re asking of him. You train him better, there’s no doubt about that. I understand all of this. More than anything, I’m just very excited for his success and that of the entire team. I think it’s great.”
McElwain said he plans to watch with popcorn on his couch Saturday night. He will join millions of others to see if Trask can bring the Gators back from embarrassment with yet another historic performance.