Ga­tors name start­ing QB.

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - SPORTS - By Edgar Thomp­son Staff writer egth­omp­son@or­lan­dosen­tinel.com

GAINESVILLE — When it came time to name red­shirt fresh­man Feleipe Franks UF’s start­ing quar­ter­back, coach Jim McEl­wain looked be­yond the heated com­pe­ti­tion of the past four weeks.

McEl­wain said he based his de­ci­sion on Franks’ “whole body of work.”

The 19-year-old Franks is less sea­soned than veter­ans Luke Del Rio and Ma­lik Zaire, both 22, and will make his first col­lege start when the No. 17 Ga­tors open the season against No. 11 Michi­gan Satur­day in AT&T Sta­dium out­side Dal­las.

Dat­ing to last spring, though, Franks has con­tin­ued to show McEl­wain the tal­ent, lead­er­ship and moxie to lift an of­fense ranked last in the SEC last season and need­ing show im­prove­ment dur­ing McEl­wain’s third season in Gainesville.

“Him be­ing there, be­ing a part of that, I think he was a little bit ahead,” McEl­wain said of the spring. “He de­serves it.”

Del Rio, who opened last season un­der cen­ter, re­turned this sum­mer after off­sea­son surgery in both shoul­ders. Zaire ar­rived in June as a grad­u­ate trans­fer from Notre Dame.

Each vet­eran was im­pres­sive enough dur­ing pre­sea­son camp for McEl­wain to de­lay his de­ci­sion un­til days be­fore the pro­gram’s most high-pro­file opener in decades.

“We had some choices and some real hard choices there,” McEl­wain said. “I think that’s re­ally good. The key is gonna be how the guys play around the po­si­tion, as well.”

But the spot­light Satur­day will be on Franks, a for­mer high school stand­out front Craw­fordville, south of Tal­la­has­see.

At 6-foot-5, 227 pounds, Franks pos­sesses the pro­to­typ­i­cal size and arm strength to suc­ceed. He also con­tin­ues to learn the nu­ances of the po­si­tion and the de­mands of the col­lege game.

Franks now will be­come the 11th start­ing quar­ter­back for the Ga­tors since Tim Te­bow’s fi­nal season, in 2009. Franks will do so against one of the na­tion’s most-sto­ried pro­grams in an NFL sta­dium on na­tional TV.

“That kind of shows what you’re made of,” McEl­wain said “I think the big thing is 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.”

McEl­wain said he an­nounced his de­ci­sion on Wed­nes­day morn­ing to his play­ers, who were not sur­prised.

“They kind of prob­a­bly saw that com­ing based on how the reps were break­ing up,” McEl­wain said.

Del Rio and Zaire took the dis­ap­point­ing news with aplomb.

“They han­dled it like they should,” McEl­wain said. “They han­dled it like com­peti­tors, and yet they han­dled it like team­mates. And that’s some­thing you like to see.”

McEl­wain ex­pects Del Rio and Zaire to be pre­pared for what­ever hap­pens.

“They’ve been in those sit­u­a­tions,” McEl­wain said. “It’s not like they’re not go­ing to be ready to play.”

When Zaire ar­rived in June, most pre­sumed it was his job to lose. The 6-foot, 225-pound fifthyear se­nior im­pressed UF team­mates with his lead­er­ship and abil­ity to ex­tend plays.

Mean­while, the 6-foot-1, 211-pound Del Rio’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing and sharp grasp of McEl­wain’s of­fense are his sell­ing points.

But in the end, Franks won his head coach’s con­fi­dence.

“He’s done a good job and we’re ex­cited for him,” McEl­wain said.

PHE­LAN M. EBENHACK/AP

Feleipe Franks will make his de­but as quar­ter­back on Satur­day when UF opens the season against Michi­gan.

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