KNOXVILLE — The last time Kyle Trask started a football game he was a freshman at Manvel High School in Texas.
As a player with prototypical size and athleticism and a knack for accuracy, the future seemed bright for Trask and a fledgling program that was expected to become a major player in a region that included statewide heavyweights Katy and North Shore.
When the school opened Manvel’s football team hit the ground running, won a lot of games and became a championship contender, but Trask wasn’t the one throwing most of the passes. He had been unseated by D’Eriq King, who became one of the biggest dual-threat stat monsters in all of Texas.
In three seasons as the starter, King passed for more than 10,000 yards and rushed for more than 3,000 more. One year after Kyler Murray set the Texas Class 6A record with 117 career touchdown passes, King broke it. King now stars for the University of Houston.
As Manvel kept winning, King’s profile grew greater. Trask, on the other hand, slipped into the background as the high-end backup who played only when games were decided.
Seven years later Trask finally will start another game — this time for No. 9-ranked Florida (3-0, 1-0 SEC) when it plays host to Tennessee (1-2, 0-0) at noon Saturday at The Swamp. Trask is in his fourth year with the Gators and appeared in four games last season. He is being pressed into action following a season-ending ankle injury to Feleipe Franks.
It’s a big moment for a kid who was a prime candidate to transfer after competing his undergraduate degree last year. With Franks’ profile rising, nobody would have faulted Trask for seeking more playing time with his two years of remaining eligibility.
Florida coach Dan Mullen asked Trask in January what he planned to do. Trask never hesitated. For him, it was ‘absolutely not’ a consideration to transfer.
“The whole portal thing in the last year or two has been a big thing, but this is one of the best schools in the country so I figured why leave when I have a top 10 education, friends I love to be around and a football team that is very supportive of me,” Trask said Monday. “I have been preparing every day as if I was the starter, as I should be (doing) and take advantage of the opportunity I was given.”
Starting against the Vols this weekend is a different animal, but Trask already has shown he is up for the challenge in big moments.
When he entered Florida’s game against Kentucky on Saturday the Gators were trailing. He led two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, including one that he ended with a 4-yard touchdown run, to help Florida score a 29-21 victory that kept it undefeated.
That Franks will not be the quarterback likely gives Vols fans a sigh of relief considering how much success he has had against them, but coach Jeremy Pruitt said he is not fooled. He pointed to the fact that at one point last season Trask was in the running to be the starter over Franks.
Pruitt also said he doesn’t expect the Gators’ offense to look different with a new player taking the snaps.
“This guy is plenty capable. We saw it the other night (against Kentucky),” Pruitt said Monday. “They were very efficient in what they did. They didn’t really change much of who they are….He’s a big, strong guy that’s got a good arm and he’s physical in the run game.”
Trask’s arrival at Florida required a little luck. Despite his lack of playing time in high school he received scholarship offers from Southland Conference schools Houston Baptist, Lamar and McNeese State.
Behind the scenes, though, Manvel coach Kirk Martin was hard at work trying to get the word out that Trask was a high-level prospect. Every time a college coach visited Manvel, Martin told them not to view Trask as a back-up.
When former Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier saw Trask in the spring of 2015 he told Martin that Trask, who was rated as a 2-star prospect, was better than all the 5-stars he had seen.
After Trask impressed Nussmeier in person, he was invited to attend a camp in Gainesville. The next day Trask visited with head coach Jim McElwain and got offered a scholarship. Trask accepted the offer the next day.
More than four years later — and more than seven years after he last started a game at any level — Trask will finally start for the Gators. On the surface it seems like less-than-ideal situation, but Mullen said he’s not worried.
“One of the things that gets overlooked is the maturity he brought to his preparation as an older guy,” Mullen said. “Kyle has been here and been around and hasn’t gotten all the opportunities you would want. It never bothered him.
“He kept taking care of his business, being prepared, ready for his moment — ‘Give me an opportunity. I’m going to be ready.’ It says a lot in today’s college football.”