Jim McElwain abruptly ended the mystery surrounding Florida’s quarterback situation Wednesday, announcing that redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks has won the starting role for Saturday’s game against Michigan.
McElwain said he informed the quarterbacks of the decision Wednesday morning, then practiced with Franks as the No. 1 guy later in the day.
McElwain said Franks won the job with his overall body of work over the past six months.
“I think the big thing is the whole body of work from spring on,” McElwain said. “Him being there, being a part of that, I think he was a little bit ahead. He deserves it. He’s done a really good job. Not to say the other guys didn’t. There’s still a little bit there obviously with the late start on the injury (for Luke Del Rio) and then obviously the way (Malik Zaire) started getting here in the middle of the summer. At this point, (Franks) has done a good job and we’re excited for him.”
Franks ended the spring as the presumptive starter, but the dynamic at the position changed this summer with the return of Del Rio, the former starter who had surgery on both shoulders in the offseason, and the addition of Zaire, a graduate transfer from Notre Dame.
The three have been engaged in a close battle throughout camp, sharing reps with the No. 1 offense.
McElwain said last week that he was pleased with the play of all three quarterbacks and could end up playing all of them in the opener. He said Wednesday Zaire and Del Rio will be ready to play if needed Saturday.
“We’ll start Feleipe. We still have a plan moving forward with everything that we have,” McElwain said. “We met this morning and practiced that way this afternoon and will continue moving forward. Obviously, with the packages and plan that we have in place, the others will be ready to go. That’s something that the guys have done a really good job of.
“And here’s the good thing. We had some choices and some real hard choices there. I think that’s really good. The key is going to be how the guys play around the position as well.”
McElwain said the reaction was a positive one in the quarterback room when he informed the quarterbacks that Franks had won the job.
“(Franks) was excited,” he said. “Obviously the other guys were disappointed, and yet the other guys were also there to be supportive. They’ve been in those situations. It’s not like they’re not going to be ready to play.
“(Del Rio and Zaire) didn’t jump up and down in joy. They handled it like they should. They handled it like competitors, and yet they handled it like teammates. And that’s something you like to see.”
Many of the players said earlier this week that they still had no idea who the starter was going to be, but McElwain said they probably had a good idea based on what’s been going on in practice throughout the week.
“They probably saw that coming based on how the reps were breaking up,” he said. “It isn’t like they jumped up and down or sat there and cried. It’s just they know they have to play hard to go have an opportunity to win. They’ll do that.”
Franks, a four-star recruit out of Crawfordville Wakulla, is the highest-rated quarterback McElwain has signed. He was an early enrollee as a true freshman in the spring of 2016. He threw three interceptions in the spring game that year and ended up redshirting last season.
He made so much progress in practice last fall that McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier considered pulling his redshirt and playing him at the end of the season.
Franks appears to have the size (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) and arm strength that are a good fit for McElwain’s offense, which has a heavy emphasis on the downfield passing game.
Franks, who has not played a single play at this level yet, will be making his debut on a big stage — before a national television audience and a soldout crowd of more than 100,000 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
McElwain anticipates his new starting quarterback holding up just fine.
“That kind of shows what you’re made of,” McElwain said. “And, no (I’m not concerned). I think the big thing in that, he’s going to be excited, there’s no doubt about it, but in that big stage the guy’s got a big arm, too. You know what, he’s been in those. He’s played in state championship games. He’ll be ready to go.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.