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Optimism evident as Florida quarterbacks battle for starting job

Kyle Trask hopes to bring Florida out of its quarterback slump in 2017. Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The realist inside Kyle Trask fully understands the situation at hand with Florida's quarterback position.

“There hasn’t been -- and I’m not trying to put anybody down -- a solid quarterback [at Florida] since the [Tim] Tebow era," Trask told ESPN earlier this week.

He's absolutely right. The three-star, barely-recruited quarterback -- who coach Jim McElwain is hoping is a diamond in the rough -- from Manvel, Texas, isn't blind to the fact that a school known so much for its quarterbacking prestige has fallen on hard times for the better part of the past decade.

Since Tebow left after the 2009 season, Florida has had 10 different starting quarterbacks, and none have passed for 2,500 yards or threw more than 12 touchdowns in a single season. During that time, Florida hasn't ranked any better than 79th nationally in passing (215.8 YPG in 2016).

Florida has had makeshift quarterbacks and four-star supposed gems, yet never managed one decent season in seven years at a position that Tebow, Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, Chris Leak and Rex Grossman once held.

But there's a feeling in Gainesville that that could actually change in 2017, yanking the Gators out of the SEC's -- and nation's -- passing cellar, thanks to redshirt freshmen Trask and Feleipe' Franks.

"We’re going to be pretty good [at quarterback]," McElwain told ESPN.

Trask and Franks haven't taken any collegiate reps but are sharing the first-team snaps this spring, as former starter Luke Del Rio recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Del Rio, a journeyman quarterback, dealt with injuries last year and threw for 1,358 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. The other 1,447 passing yards went to Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby, who ran out of eligibility.

Athlete signee Kadarius Toney, who is more of a dual-threat option, is there too, but Trask and Franks are far and away the leaders.

But the fact of the matter is that Trask and Franks -- two guys whom QB guru McElwain recruited and signed in his vision -- are the guys. Both could play this fall, but one is expected to be the present and future at quarterback for the University of Florida.

“It’s not just competing to be the quarterback at the University of Florida, I want to bring the swag back to Florida," Franks, who was a 2016 four-star, ESPN 300 member, told ESPN. "I want to be the guy that the whole country is talking about. I have that in myself, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make everybody to realize that.”

Franks was a gunslinger with a missile for a right arm at Wakulla County High School in Crawfordville, Florida and a U.S. Army All-American. He flipped from LSU to Florida.

Trask was a backup to eventual Houston signee D'Eriq King. His first offer from Houston Baptist was "a dream come true."

During the spring of Trask's junior season, Florida assistant Randy Shannon visited Manvel to scout safety Derrick Tucker, who later signed with Texas A&M. During his visit, Trask caught his eye, and Shannon relayed his intel to OC Doug Nussmeier.

It took some convincing, but Nussmeier eventually went to Manvel. Impressed by Trask, he invited him to camp in Gainesville and then invited him back for megacamp Friday Night Lights in July.

After another notable performance, Trask was offered, said he committed a day later and enrolled at Florida as a relatively unknown player in December 2015.

“I came in with a chip on my shoulder trying to prove myself," Trask said. "I know a lot of people didn’t know who I was so I came in trying to make a name for myself.”

Now, both are battling to resurrect the quarterback spot at Florida. The charismatic Franks is the presumed leader, but he's had moments that conjured visions of last year's three-interception performance in Florida's spring game. Trask, the more soft-spoken, laid-back type, has displayed brilliance in some throws, but he hasn't fully embraced the leadership side -- unlike Franks -- and has tightened up more during live drills.

Trask says he feels "100 percent more confident" in himself and the playbook, while Franks says he's found more comfort and fun on the field after a "super confusing" first spring of "not even knowing what I was doing.”

These two still have a long way to go when it comes to reading defenses inside a packed stadium and making clutch throws when they really count. But something both have been better at than their predecessors is chucking the deep ball.

“They’ve been throwing big bombs," safety Nick Washington told ESPN. "They’re not afraid to let it loose. It’s exciting to know they’re willing to go for the big play.”

Added senior receiver Brandon Powell, who has seen a slew of quarterbacks go in and out of Florida: “They just tell us ‘Get open.'"

It's too early to anoint either much of anything, let alone Florida's starter, but it appears that there is at least more excitement under center. And the more McElwain wraps his fingers around the two, molding each more and more in his vision, you can't help but wonder if one of these guys will actually turn things around at a position thirsting for prosperity.

“They’ve got some intangible skills that should really allow us to push the ball [down field] a little bit more," McElwain said.

“I know one thing: They can throw it. They can really throw it. They have natural arm talent. We’re going to be pretty good [at quarterback].”