FAYETTEVILLE — Feleipe Franks helped get Florida back to among the best teams in the SEC East and now he’s working his magic at Arkansas as well.
When due to COVID, all schools in the conference went to an all-SEC schedule it was easy for most to predict Arkansas would go 0-10. After all, the Razorbacks hadn’t won an SEC game since 2017 when they went 1-7. They were 0-8 in the SEC in 2018 and 2019. Instead, Arkansas is 3-3 (only a blown call at Auburn away from being 4-2) heading into tonight’s game in The Swamp. Franks is one of the reasons for Arkansas’ success, but he declined to compare the situation at the two schools.
“I’m not going to sit here and compare it,” Franks said. “That wouldn’t be fair to compare it. But I do think that it’s like, I don’t know how to explain it. Just being the competitor that I am, I mean, just being able to be a part of those stories, it’s awesome. But you know I try to live and do my work day by day. And then right now just being a part of this journey with this team to finish out the season strong and go out there and change things around here and the culture around here, it’s important for me right at this second and that’s what my main focus is on, to win games. That’s always been my main focus ever since I’ve been playing is just to win. That’s just me being the ultimate competitor. But me being a part of those stories is awesome and its’ a blessing at the end of the day.”
In six games, Franks has completed 123 of 183 passes for 1,428 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also has rushed 72 times for 174 yards. He has had success stretching the field with his throws as well.
Franks’ coach at Florida, Dan Mullen, isn’t surprised at all with his success at Arkansas.
“I knew he would be successful wherever he went,” Mullen said. “He said, ‘Hey coach I’m gonna go on, move on, because I want to make sure I have the opportunity to start. And I think here you kinda had two starting quarterbacks and one of them wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play.’ So a lot of our discussion was make sure you find the best situation for you so you can get on the field and play.
“I’m really happy for him and it doesn’t surprise me. I mean people, if you’re not around him, he’s a competitor. I think he’s a really good leader. I think guys respond to him and he’ll push himself both on and off the field. And I think guys around you respond to that and you see that especially at the quarterback position. It’s such an important role. He came into a program that they have a new coach and haven’t won and a new quarterback. But both of those two came from winning programs. They brought this kind of mindset of hey we know how to win. Just follow what we are doing and we know how to win. With the combination of the coaches and having a quarterback. Obviously they have a bunch of talent on the team on both sides of the football. You see what has probably changed is the mindset of how they play and that’s why they’re having the success. I know Feleipe was probably a major part of their coaching staff of changing the mindset of the team.”
Despite his success at Florida, he drew some criticism from some fans and at times may have reacted to it. He has been a leader at Arkansas.
“Yeah, I mean I just think that wisdom comes through experience not age, in my personal opinion,” Franks said. “And I think just going through certain experiences and learning how to grow up at some point and that’s not just necessarily saying ‘Hey, this kid’s immature’ but maybe there’s some different aspects of his game that he needs to improve on. And I think just taking all those and running with it is super important to me. Being able to take constructive criticism and know that somebody’s not always getting onto you but trying to help you, just depending on the outlook you have on it. That was important to me. Everybody always has room to grow. We all have room to grow. Nobody’s perfect. That’s the way I look at it.”
Sam Pittman talked about Franks at Arkansas and only signs of leadership and not any immaturity.
“Well, Arkansas hasn’t treated him that way,” Pittman said. “Arkansas hasn’t been critical of him, and they shouldn’t be. The guy came in here and has done a great job for us. I don’t know if Florida was or not, but I know we haven’t been. Everything I say to Feleipe Franks is positive. Everything. Even if it’s negative, I find a positive way to say it because I believe in him. The team believes in him. And if he feels that I think he’s a better football player. So that’s our approach with him. He’s deserved that. He’s earned that. Honestly, I think he’s real proud of coming here because of the way fans have treated him.”
Center Ricky Stromberg is excited to try and help Franks get a win in The Swamp.
“We’re going down there to win like any game we go down there to win,” Stromberg said. “We have to play with great physicality. Feleipe going back home is going to be pretty fun for all of us so we’re pretty excited about that.”
Some have speculated Arkansas may have success passing against the Gators since the secondary seems to be their weakness on defense.
“I think Coach (Todd) Grantham, I’ve had a chance to be around him, I think he’s an awesome coach,” Franks said. “All those guys on the defensive staff, I think they’re really good coaches. I think we have a great opportunity just for us, focusing on our offense, focusing on us as a whole, to go down there and play a really good team. Obviously a top-5 team in the country. We’ve got a great opportunity to go down there and showcase our offense and how we perform and just tighten some things up in our offense. That’s what I think it’s mainly about for us. But yes, I think they have a really good defense. They’ve got, obviously, really good players. I had a chance to be around those guys, really good players, motivated and coached really well. So excited to be able to play against really good competition. Week in and week out, that’s what you expect.”
Franks’ 2019 season at Florida was cut short by a very bad ankle injury that required surgery. He healed in time to play all six games with the Hogs this season.
“I feel good,” Franks said. “I feel good. Getting late into the season, I think that everybody as a whole, body isn’t the greatest. When you play long seasons, especially a 10-game SEC schedule, it’s not going to be the best. But at the same time, that’s when you gotta be able to mentally tap in and go harder and go out there and still practice, because everybody’s hurt and everybody’s sore. It’s just about going out there and still competing when things aren’t always in your favor, like your body.”
Heading into the game tonight, Franks was asked how much his teammates have picked his brain about the Gators.
“I just try to be helpful teammate in any way I possibly can,” Franks said. “So those guys who do have questions, they come up and ask me. I don’t mind sharing. Obviously, it’s a new year as well. Schematics change from year to year. For me, they’ll scheme our offense. So, I don’t think it’s too much of trying to scheme around me or us trying to do too much. It’s just going out there to execute what they coaches are saying. Coaches do a great job here of scheming it up for what we need to do to be successful on Saturday’s. I think we just follow that plan and it’ll give us a really good chance to go out there and win on this coming Saturday. But, I’m always an open book.”
Mullen suspects Franks knows enough about Florida’s signals that he is having to change some signs.
“Yeah, I’m sure he has probably shared some information with them on what we’re doing offensively,” Mullen said. “You know trying whatever way possible to gain an advantage in the game so we’re going to have to, we’ve discussed that, and have a plan for that.”
While Pittman will miss tonight’s game due to COVID, he isn’t that concerned that Franks may be too hyped for the game.
“You know, I don’t think so,” Pittman said. “I mean, he’s had a good week of practice. He knows this game’s not just about him. It’s about us. He just has to go out there and do his job the best he can. Hopefully he doesn’t have too much added pressure. And we’d all be fooling ourselves if we don’t think he has pressure on him because that was his former team and he’s got a lot of love for the players on Florida’s team, as well. But he’s a competitor. He’s going to want to play as well as he can. Florida, they’re competitive as well and they’re going to want him not to, so I get all that. I think he’ll be fine. He’s looked good in practice.”
The kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CT tonight and televised on ESPN.