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