GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The moment Florida quarterback Kyle Trask heard a pop in his knee and felt it buckle, he feared the worst. Hands above his head clenched in fists one moment, over his face the next.
Trainers rushed over, but after a few minutes, he was well enough to jog under his own power to the locker room. A few minutes after that, he jogged back onto the Florida sideline to a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd. Trainers told Trask he had a sprained left knee, and he would be able to return to Saturday’s top-10 matchup against Auburn.
There was no hesitation. Trask missed two series in the second quarter and then returned to finish the game, helping lead the No. 10 Gators to the 24-13 victory over the No. 7 Tigers.
“He waited this long. He wasn’t going to miss that opportunity,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said afterward. “He wasn’t going to let that slip away. When you look at him, that’s who has been. His character — he’s never wavered since I’ve been here and it’s pretty amazing. He said, ‘I can go,’ and he’s ready to go.”
When Trask fell to the turf, it was hard not to have flashbacks to three weeks earlier. Feleipe Franks fell to the turf with a gruesome ankle injury, and Trask was sent in to replace him. The following week against Tennessee, Trask made his first start since his freshman year in high school.
So when Mullen says Trask waited this long for his opportunity, he means it. But in those minutes Trask was on the field surrounded by trainers, nobody really knew what to expect. The redshirt junior said he had a “million things” running through his mind.
Replays showed what appeared to be a painful hit — Auburn defensive end Marlon Davidson was blocked into Trask’s knee following a pass attempt, and the knee bent awkwardly.
In the locker room, trainers checked Trask’s knee out. He kept asking what the offense was doing with Emory Jones. Florida (6-0, 3-0 SEC) had scored a field goal to open up a slightly bigger lead. Trask was thrilled. But his mind stayed on his knee until trainers delivered the good news. He said he feared the worst.
“It was really emotional because when I got hit, there was a lot of pain and I felt a pop in my knee and I’m so thankful it turned out to be a lot better than what I thought it was at the time,” Trask said. “It was really scary. Knees are nothing to play around with. Once they told me it was sprained and they could take care of me and go back in, that’s what I did.”
When Trask came back onto the field, Mullen wanted to be absolutely sure Trask felt OK.
“I said run around, throw some balls, get loose and you tell me,” Mullen said. “The trainers said you could go back in, but you tell me what you think after you move around. I’m not just going to throw you in there.”
Trask returned late in the second quarter and played the rest of the game, going 19-of-31 for 234 yards and two touchdowns. But he wasn’t perfect, and lost two fumbles when he was hit by Tigers defenders. Auburn (5-1, 2-1) put relentless pressure on Trask, sacking him four times and hurrying him constantly.
Still, he did enough to lead the Gators to the big win, and made some clutch throws to Freddie Swain, who finished with six catches for 146 yards — more than the entire Auburn offense had combined (145).
“Kyle’s a tough guy so when he went down, I was like, ‘I hope he gets back up,'” Florida tight end Kyle Pitts said. “When he came back, it was like, ‘Yeah, this game means a lot to him.'”
But it’s only one in a line of important games. Up next is a trip to LSU as Florida continues to make its College Football Playoff case. But going in with some momentum certainly will not hurt.
“Nothing was given to us in this game,” Trask said. “It was all earned. That just comes from being resilient. This is one of the most resilient teams I’ve been a part of. That’s a result of us being dialed in throughout the week in preparation and it shows on Saturdays.”