Hog fans, if you haven’t yet watched or listened to Monday night’s post practice Zoom interview with Feleipe Franks, it will do your heart and mind good to seek it out on YouTube at some point this week.
It’ll make you feel better about the Razorbacks’ upcoming season that is fast approaching as the calendar turns from August to September.
Franks, of course, is the 6-6, 228-pound graduate-transfer from Florida who is the odds on favorite to be the Razorbacks’ starting quarterback this fall.
While first-year head coach Sam Pittman played coy about who the Hogs’ QB 1 would be last week when he joked he’d name Arkansas’ starter right after former boss Georgia head coach Kirby Smart named his, it’s a foregone albeit unannounced conclusion that the former Gator will be the Hogs’ starting signal caller in their Sept. 26 season opener with the Bulldogs at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, barring illness or injury.
Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles said as much going into practices, and while K.J. Jefferson, a 6-3, 236-pound redshirt freshman, and Malik Hornsby, 6-2, 183 true freshman, no doubt have their talents, Franks didn’t come to Arkansas to sit.
After last season with the struggles of Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel, I can fully understand if you never want to hear the term “graduate-transfer” again, particularly when talking about a Razorback quarterback, but Franks is a different story.
Franks was a third-year starter for the Gators last season when a gruesome lower leg injury against Kentucky put him on the shelf for the season. He had connected on 12-of-17 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 23 yards against the Wildcats before the injury, but sophomore Kyle Trask stepped in and took over the quarterback spot for the Gators, prompting Franks to look elsewhere for playing time.
Things clicked with Pittman and Briles on his recruiting trip to Fayetteville, and he was the heir apparent at QB going into spring practice, but then, of course, spring practice never happened. Everything changed when the coronavirus ground the world to a halt in March, just before the Razorbacks were to begin off-season drills.
The virus remains a threat, however, football continues on. The outbreaks we are seeing at universities around the nation since students returned to campuses is the very reason the SEC moved the season from starting on Sept. 5 to Sept. 26. The thought seems to be that outbreaks happening now will be suppressed, and then we will move on with college athletics.
Franks and the Hogs had their first scrimmage of preseason practice last Friday, and while it was closed to the media, reports from Arkansas’ sports information staff point to Franks having a good day with four touchdown tosses. Two went to sophomore tight end Hudson Henry near the goal line with two more going to wide receivers Treylon Burks and Mike Woods.
On the Zoom conference call Monday, Franks said he feels 100 percent as far as his health after the injury, and that he’s enjoying the competition as he continues to learn the ins and outs of Briles’ fast-paced offense.
“I think my confidence is through the roof right now,” Franks said. “We had a scrimmage this past Friday and I felt wonderful, 100 percent. I take it personally every rep to treat it like a game rep. So, to say that when game time comes, that’s going to be my first game rep, I think that would be far from the truth. That’s not just me, but everybody on our offense. We’re taking reps as if we’re in the game, so when Saturdays come, they come easy.”
Franks’ experience with the media was evident in the Zoom interview, answering questions easily, while also deftly avoiding specifics that he had no doubt been asked to stay away from by either his coaches, the sports information department or both.
While his comments were somewhat generic, Franks spoke with confidence and an energy that’s been missing from Razorback interviews of the past couple of years. Such effervescence was also noticeable last week in a Zoom session with back-up running back Trelon Smith.
It seems a sense of positivity has returned to the Razorback program that had been sucked away over the course of the last three losing seasons.
Credit for this new positivity has to go to Pittman and his staff, and it’s a clear sign that another change of direction was needed last fall when Hunter Yurachek, Arkansas athletics director, let Chad Morris go with two games remaining in the season.
But I digress.
Franks seemed confident that both he and his teammates were growing into Briles’ up-tempo offensive scheme.
“I feel like it’s getting better,” Franks said. “We’re taking steps. We’re stacking good practices on top of good practices. I think that’s all that matters right now. Like, how the execution is going, that’s what we need to be focused on right now. Can we execute every play at a high level? Right now, I think that we’re getting better and better. We’re better than Week 2. Practice today was better than than the start of Week 2. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Franks said he liked way the Hogs pressed the tempo in the first scrimmage and added the Hogs would only improve as they continue to hone and polish various aspects of Briles’ up-tempo offense.
“My comfort level is getting better and better,” Franks said. “It’s a new offense, but it is getting better and better day by day.”
While some have bemoaned the difficulty of Arkansas’ 10-game, all-SEC schedule, it excites Franks. The Razorbacks will play every SEC team ranked in the initial AP Top 25 poll. While fans look at that like it is the plague, it fires Franks and hopefully his fellow Hogs up.
“I think the 10-game SEC schedule is awesome,” Franks said while clapping his hands. “I love the competition, me personally. These guys here love it. I think it gives Arkansas a chance to get its name out there…get some wins against SEC opponents.”
Franks said opening the season with Georgia is exciting, but just opening his senior season has him juiced.
“Our team is going to be ready,” Franks said. “We’re slowly implementing things for Georgia, but at the same time, our focus is learning our offense, the ins and outs of it, and having good production with it before we start looking at (a single opponent). I think we are learning and going at a good pace right now. I think we are really motivated, and I think we’re going to have fun.”
Having fun playing football?
It seems like a novel idea right now to Hog fans after the struggles of the last three seasons. However, maybe the optimism of Franks, Pittman and the rest of the Razorbacks will rub off on their fans before the season kicks off in three weeks.