Feleipe Franks walked the length of the field, tiny rain drops pelting his face as he strode with the big smile toward the northeast corner of the end zone.
He carried the game ball in his hands, a sphere he probably couldn’t have dreamed would be in his meaty paws when this wet Saturday began.
This is where the story could have been really cool (to use McElwainese) if he had presented it to someone.
“No way. It’s mine,” said Franks with a grin.
Instead, he walked up to his girlfriend, Kelston Sund, still working her Saturday job as a Florida cheerleader. Franks gave her a one-armed hug that looked like it would break her in half, bending her backward like she was made of Jello.
“She’s been so supportive of me,” he said later. “I wanted to share the moment with her.”
But not the ball, of course. That was a well-earned trophy for a guy who was never kicked to the curb, but he could see it from the sideline.
Franks had been humiliated twice if you believe that the job of starting quarterback at the University of Florida comes with a level of prestige so powerful that a demotion can be debilitating.
In three games, he had been benched twice. The first one — in the opener against Michigan — didn’t work out for anyone not wearing maize and blue.
The second — in his third start — made Florida decide that if it was going to win the East again this year, it needed to go with the veteran Luke Del Rio rather than watch Franks slowly grow.
But football is a game of heartbreak and Del Rio’s track record is fragile. This time, he went down in a heap near the Florida goal line in the second quarter and came off holding his left arm to his side like it was a no longer attached to his body.
That meant Florida, soon to be down 17-14 with 43 seconds remaining in the half, no longer had options at quarterback.
In went Franks and three completions later — including a 49-yarder to Tyrie Cleveland — Florida had a chance at a score. Three incompletions later, the Gators settled for a tying field goal.
But they had some momentum and capitalized on it during a rare dominant third quarter. Franks’ passing numbers during the quarter — 5-for-6 for 101 yards.
“He took care of business,” said Florida coach Jim McElwain. “He doesn’t waiver. He’s very steady in everything he does.”
This was not a game that Franks had to win. It was a game he had to manage. As big as some of the throws were, he only threw 14 of them.
Instead, it was as much about getting his team in and out of the huddle, up to the line and onto the next play. Kind of like Del Rio did in Lexington.
“Luke had a tempo going and a lot of things that veterans have,” Franks said. “We wanted to keep that going.”
Because you never know when the music will stop in this game of revolving quarterbacks. Franks knew that even after a pair of quick hooks in games one and three, he was one play away from being back in there with a game on the line.
At halftime, the game now belonging to him, Franks wrote “Luke” under his left wristband. He didn’t want to be the starter by default. Nobody with a heart does.
“It’s hard. It’s emotional,” Franks said. “You want to go out there and play for somebody. He’s done nothing but support me.”
That support played a role in why Franks did not go all sulk-in-the-corner after Del Rio was named the starter for this game. He had watched what Del Rio had done at Kentucky, coming off the bench and bringing enthusiasm to the huddle.
So Franks didn’t wander around the practice field this week watching the clouds roll by. He paid attention.
“It’s important to focus on each rep and there were a lot of mental reps,” Franks said. “Just watching a lot of what Luke does, he does everything right.”
Now it’s all up to Franks as the Gators head into the meat of their schedule. He knows this much — he has plenty of support. From his girlfriend, his family, his coaches and his teammates.
“It shows you not only does he care for his teammates,” McElwain said, “they care for him.”
Just not enough to pry that wet ball away from him.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.