Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in September of 2020
Kyle Trask hates the word. Backup. He knew you thought it. He did his best not to.
Trask played for Houston-area power Manvel High School, throwing plenty of touchdowns to a slew of future Division I players. Yet his opportunity always came after starter D’Eriq King got his. Backup.
Trask defied the odds to earn a scholarship to Florida. You know what every article mentioned when he committed? Backup.
A Gainesville respite? Nope. Trask arrived as the “other” quarterback in a recruiting class that included elite prospect Feleipe Franks, the No. 54 prospect in the country who emerged as the passer of the future his first three seasons at Florida. The No. 2,123 player in the same class … well, Trask was — yet again — the backup.
At some point you might expect reality to set in, the word becoming a defining characteristic. Not so for this starter-in-reserve, a backup living in necessary denial.
“That’s technically who I was, so I’d hear it all the time,” Trask told 247Sports earlier this offseason. “But it pissed me off every time I heard that. Honestly, it’s never what I viewed myself as.”
Last year the world finally saw Trask (6-foot-5, 239 pounds) as he saw himself. Franks suffered a season-ending injury three games into the 2019 campaign and it looked like Florida’s QB curse would continue. Tim Tebow changed the program a decade earlier, but no legitimate successor — and there were a ton of hyped options — emerged following his 2009 departure. And then the backup became that dude.
Trask off the bench and led the Gators to a 9-2 record, the only losses coming in fourth-quarter games against LSU and Georgia. Trask threw for 2,941 yards, 25 touchdowns against seven interceptions while completing 66.9 percent of his passes. He finished with the 10th-best QBR in the country, earning the highest single-season passer rating for a Gator since Tebow.
Franks transferred to Arkansas this offseason and Trask is the signature player for a top 10 team with legitimate national title aspirations. Nobody can call Trask a backup any longer.
Not that Trask would throw the word away so quickly. The fight it takes to stay oblivious to reality for so long is the same thing pushing Trask, and he hopes Florida, forward.
“It’s a microwave society,” said Kirk Martin, Trask’s head coach at Manvel High School. “Everybody wants it right now. Everybody talks about the grind. That sounds sexy until you have to grind. Kyle never talks about the grind. He just gets in there and does it.
“The kid is a fighter. It’s in his DNA.”
Trask’s backup-to-starter story is somewhat defined territory. Yet the traditional narrative is in need of a slight correction. To start, Trask didn’t begin his Manvel career as a backup.
He was the future.
Martin met Trask in sixth grade. The younger brother of a varsity linebacker, Trask carried a football around with him to practices, the ball flying off to the side while his brother worked. By ninth grade, Trask sprouted well past his brother (5-foot-10) and emerged as the Mavericks’ likely starter for the 2013 season. He led the freshman team to an undefeated record in 2012 and Martin said “he lit it up.”
“It had been his passion for a long time,” Martin said. “He was young and could spin it.”
Then came a nine-way quarterback competition. Ultimately, it came down to Trask and a new transfer, D’Eriq King.
Martin ultimately picked King, largely because of his mobility: “He was on our state championship relay team. To take him off the grass would’ve been criminal.”
Trask would start some games on JV to get reps as a sophomore. But that quarterback battle is where his backup journey began. King and Trask split practice reps during their upperclassmen seasons – Martin said Trask may have even thrown more passes in practice than King – and Trask would get the fifth and seventh series of each game.
Fated as a high school backup with college dreams, Trask had a choice following his sophomore year: Stay put and grind, or transfer. His dad started to inquire at local high schools and met with Martin about a potential exit.
The next day, Martin called Trask into his office. Shortly into the conversation, a usually shy Trask interjected firmly: “I was born and raised in Manvel, Texas, and I’m not going anywhere.” When Martin admitted he thought Trask had already made up his mind, Trask added: “That’s not my mind. My mind is to be a Manvel Maverick.”
“I was raised that you’ve got to finish what you started and compete where you’re at,” Trask said.
Chances came in short bursts. Trask threw for 786 yards and six touchdowns while completing 71 percent of his passes as a junior. Martin would often tell Trask: “You’re going to be a big-time SEC starter one day.”
There were plenty of eyes at Manvel practices and games. Ten other players from Trask’s senior class signed with an FBS program. Martin’s pitch to recruiters always hit the same note: “This kid has the best deep ball I’ve seen from a high school quarterback. … Anywhere else in the country he’d be a full-time starter and he’s better than 99 percent of the guys out there starting.”
College opportunities were scarce for someone tagged as a backup, no matter how often Martin insisted Trask would be an ideal fit in a different system. It doesn’t help that King had his own share of doubters. Many programs recruited King as a wide receiver or defensive back. Yet Martin kept throwing his line into the water, hoping for a bite.
It came from Gainesville. Florida offensive Doug Nussmeier, now the Dallas Cowboys quarterback coach, recruited Martin’s son, Koda, a few years before. Martin heard the Gators were looking to take two QBs in the 2016 cycle and told Nussmeier: “Heck, here’s your guy.”
Florida head coach Jim McElwain, now at Central Michigan, sent area recruiter and associate head coach Randy Shannon to watch Trask throw. Martin had Trask toss 22-yard comeback routes to show off his arm strength. Once Shannon made his report, Nussmeier watched a bit more tape and invited Trask to camp. After his camp performance, Nussmeier gushed to Martin: “He’s better than any five-star that I’ve seen out there.”
Offer coming soon, right? There was still that whole backup thing. Nussmeier told Martin: “My coach is having a really hard time pulling the trigger on a guy who’s a backup in high school. How can you sign a guy who’s a backup and play at the FBS level?”
That’s when Martin told Nussmeier something he’d said to college recruiters man times before: “They’re going to do a 30-for-30 about Kyle one day, and I’m going to be the guy who cut Michael Jordan. I’m the guy who didn’t make him a starter. Trust your eyes.”
Two weeks later, Nussmeier called again inviting Trask to the school’s Friday Night Lights Camp. Trask’s dad pushed back against Kyle throwing once again, flying across the country for just a chance. Kyle overruled him. “OK cool,” he told Martin.
Trask threw again. Shortly after, he had his first FBS offer. Florida earned a commitment from the No. 2,266 overall player in the country, per the 247Sports Composite.
“You have to trust your evaluations,” McElwain told 247Sports. “We were able to see him live in practice and see him live when he came to our camps. Then doing the background. In today’s age, if the quarterback is not the starter, they immediately go somewhere else. He could’ve had that opportunity and he chose to stay and see it through. That speaks volumes for the kind of guy he is and how he was brought up.”
There’s an argument to be made that McElwain lost the Florida job in 2018 largely because of his inability to find an impact quarterback. McElwain believes he had already recruited that player. The backup just had some terrible injury luck.
Trask redshirted as a freshman in 2016. The next year, Trask and Franks, along with Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire, were supposed to compete for the starting job. Trask never got the chance, suffering a season-ending injury ahead of Florida’s opener.
“He was getting ready to get that opportunity,” McElwain said. “He was always prepared and ready to go.”
It happened again in Mullen’s first season in Gainesville. Trask took over for an ineffective Franks in November of 2018 against Missouri, throwing for 126 yards and a touchdown on 10-for-18 passing. No quarterback controversy would ensue because Trask broke his foot.
“I just felt like it was a reoccurring thing over and over,’ Trask said. “It broke me down and it made me who I am today, a person of patience and perseverance.”
That person is now the starting quarterback at Florida. Trask went from quiet on-campus walks to being hounded for pictures. He went from hoping for a chance to magazine covers. He went from backup to Heisman candidate. Trask described the shift as “surreal.”
Forever an ideal backup, Trask’s goals were always led with an attainable coaching cliché: “Control what you can control.” It’s why he looked at his pairing with Franks as an opportunity instead of a curse. Trask eventually earned an opportunity alongside King. He figured the chance would come at Florida as well.
All of that waiting allowed Trask to thrive quickly. By the time he earned his chance, Trask had sat and learned beside – never behind – a pair of Power Five passers and several college quarterback coaches over a six-year period. Now that he’s playing, Mullen said Trask is already working on a “graduate level” in the Gator offense heading into 2020. He’s the next in a long line of successful Mullen passers, a list that includes Alex Smith (Utah), Dak Prescott (Mississippi State) and, of course, Tebow (Florida).
Back in May, Trask and King worked out together in Houston. The Florida star and the now-Miami star mostly did what they always did: Split reps and showcased different but dynamic skill sets. In the quieter moments, they talked about how two doubted high school prospects ended up starting at Power Five programs in Florida. “It’s awesome,” Trask says.
Usually reserved as a speaker, Trask didn’t hesitate when discussing Florida’s 2020 expectations: “The goal around here is to always win a national championship.” The last Florida quarterback to do so was Tebow. Trask smartly ducked that comparison. He also didn’t shy away: “I want to set the bar even higher.”
He’s used to that sort of mandate.
Trask knew from the moment King won the job at Manvel that he’d have to be “that much better” to see the field again. The same would have to occur at Florida, playing beside Franks. It’s a backup’s curse, facing the often unassailable hurdle that is first impressions and expectations.
Yet here Trask is, the starter for the Florida Gators. Ain’t nobody going to call him that word again.