Offensive linemen always take it hard, take it personally, when they see their quarterback go down with an injury. In this particular case, with this particular quarterback, the hurt is running a little deeper for the big guys.
That’s because the Florida offensive linemen have always considered Feleipe Franks one of their own — a trimmed down version of a big nasty, a roommate, a friend, a fellow pool ’rasslin’ crazy.
To them, he’s so much more than just a quarterback.
“Yeah, it was tough, especially because Feleipe. … me and him are close, real close, we’re best friends, roommates,” junior offensive guard Brett Heggie said. “I know what it’s like being in his shoes, you know, dealing with a season-ending injury. That was tough to see for sure.”
Trying to run for a first down on fourth-and-two late in the third quarter against Kentucky, Franks laid his body out against a wall of defenders trying to reach the line to make. He came up short, his body getting bent back, his right ankle collapsing — dislocated with a fracture.
Franks is out for the season. His line now prepares to move on without him.
“Anytime you see a teammate go down like that, have to be carted off, it’s a bad deal,” senior center Nick Buchanan said. “Especially when it’s your quarterback. Not only the quarterback but one of the leaders on the team, one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever seen. It’s a bad deal. You can’t linger on that, you have to rally around him and use it as motivation and not let him down because he’s still wanting to see us win.”
There should be no guilt associated with this injury. It wasn’t the result of a blindside sack or a whiff or a blown assignment. It was Franks’ choice to put his body on the line trying to get a first down and ignite a comeback for his team, which was trailing 21-10 at the time.
“That’s who he is,” Buchanan said. “He plays every play like it’s his last, which is how you should play football. You never know which one will be your last. It’s not his last play of football, he’s going to play again eventually. He has to get better and rehab and all that stuff. That’s how he plays. We encourage that. Things happen and it’s just the nature of the game of football.”
Seeing Franks lying on the field in agony stunned the offensive linemen. It also inspired and motivated them. That was evident in their play for the remainder of the game.
“You always hate to see a teammate go down, especially Feleipe, a player who really wants to win,” Buchanan said. “We wanted to win, especially for him.”
Once Kyle Trask went into the game in the fourth quarter, the big guys formed a protective wall around him, giving him the opportunity to orchestrate the comeback that led to a 29-21 victory Saturday.
“(The injury to Franks) inspired them to play the game for him,” offensive line coach John Hevesy said. “He’s their quarterback and he’s been their leader. You watch them say, ‘Oh, crap, we’ve got to work a little harder than what we’re doing and we’re still behind. We got to go win the game.’ “
Heading into last week’s game, Hevesy had been adamant about his linemen protecting Franks, preventing him from even getting hit. To see Franks go down like he did really stung him.
“It makes me sick to my stomach,” he said. “It still does.”
For the most part, the line has been sound in protection, at least statistically, giving up only three sacks in three games. But Hevesy is especially upset over the third sack of the season, the one in the second quarter where Franks took a big shot and fumbled against UK.
“He got hit early on with the fumble,” Hevesy said. “That was just a miscommunication, which to me is unacceptable. That’s one thing to me jumping out. They’ve got to be able to communicate better up front.
“It’s not that anybody got physically beat. It’s a communication error. The greatest thing is it’s correctable. We’ve just got to do a better job. It’s instant communication of five guys.”
There is a sense of urgency among the Big Nasties to get things right, not just because the Gators are heading deeper into the SEC schedule, but because UF is now down to just two scholarship quarterbacks — Trask and redshirt freshman Emory Jones.
They’ve got to protect the two QBs still standing.
“Oh, it’s important all the time,” Hevesy said. “I don’t care if we have 12, the one that’s out there is the one we’ve got to keep on his feet all the time. It’s a matter of owning it. We’ve got to. We’ve got to constantly be doing our job up front. When the pass is called, we’ve got to protect the quarterback.”