How Florida’s two Kyles — Trask and Pitts — became the SEC’s biggest matchup problem

  • Covers the SEC.
  • Joined ESPN in 2012.
  • Graduate of Auburn University.

The final whistle would blow, Florida coach Dan Mullen would say a few words, and then players and coaches would begin to go their separate ways. Dinner was waiting. Rest. Maybe a little homework before bed.

But the quarterback and tight end would stay behind.

The sun would be fading fast during those late evenings in the summer and fall of 2018, and the two would move to the indoor facility for some extra reps under the lights. Not that many people noticed at the time. Why would they? They were anonymous backups, after all.

On paper, the two were polar opposites. Kyle Pitts was the No. 2-ranked tight end in his class with scholarship offers from every powerhouse program you could think of — Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma. His time was coming, but not right this minute. A true freshman, he was buried on the depth chart behind C’Yontai Lewis, R.J. Raymond and Moral Stephens.

Then there was Kyle Trask, whose time had never truly come at all. He wasn’t even a starter at Manvel High in Texas where he backed up D’Eriq King. ESPN ranked him the 34th QB in his class, and his other offers were from Houston Baptist, Lamar and McNeese State. How he ended up at Florida was nothing short of a miracle, but he was a third-year sophomore already and his fairy-tale ending was fading fast as he was stuck behind former blue-chip prospects Feleipe Franks and Emory Jones.

Someone should have told Pitts and Trask to save their energy, to pack it in and wait their turn.

It’s a good thing they didn’t.

Trask would fire pass after pass to Pitts, marveling at his athleticism. At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, the young tight end could move as well as any receiver Trask had ever seen. What’s more, he had a work ethic to match.

“You see a lot of talented guys day-in and day-out,” Trask recalled, “but it’s not often you see people with that elite level of talent and that elite level of dedication that he has.”

In turn, Pitts saw in the older Trask someone who not only had a strong arm but a quiet confidence to be emulated. Though he wasn’t the starter, Pitts said, “He prepared like one and acted like one.”

A connection was formed between the two during those post-practice workouts, and not strictly in the X’s and O’s sense of things.

They’d pick each other up as they walked in the dark back to a mostly empty locker room. Over and over they’d tell each other that their time was coming, Pitts recalled, and “That at the end of the tunnel we’re going to be there, and we’re going to shine.”

But who knew that they’d shine so bright?

Pitts played sparingly as a freshman in 2018, appearing in 11 games but catching only three passes. Trask, on the other hand, hardly played at all. He managed to appear in four games of mop-up duty before a foot injury sidelined him the rest of the year.

The 2019 season might have been a dud, too, had Franks not sustained a season-ending injury in Week 2 against Kentucky.

No one knew what to expect of Trask when he was named the starter. He hadn’t been a starter in seven years, and he had to go out and all of a sudden prove himself in front of 88,000 fans in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium against Tennessee.

But on the very first drive, Trask took a shotgun snap from the Tennessee 19-yard line, faked a handoff to his running back and spotted his buddy in the slot to his left. Trask stared down Pitts and just as he broke inside on the post route, Trask let it rip. The ball sailed a little high but Pitts stretched out and pulled it in for the touchdown — Trask’s first as a starter.

Pitts laughed when he was reminded of that touchdown Monday. It had been so long since then.

Pitts went on to catch five touchdowns as a sophomore, and all of them were thrown by Trask, who led Florida to an 11-2 record and finished with 25 touchdowns, seven interceptions and just shy of 3,000 yards passing.

Franks transferred to Arkansas, and both Trask and Pitts were named first-team preseason All-SEC by the coaches in September.

This season the tandem has not only taken the SEC by storm but college football as a whole. The phrase “K2K” became a trending topic on Twitter when Trask found Pitts for four touchdowns in the season opener against Ole Miss.

Through two games, Pitts already has six touchdowns, which is tied for second most over a two-game span by an SEC player in the past 25 seasons. Trask, meanwhile, has become only the third player in conference history to have 10 passing touchdowns through his team’s first two games. The last player to do that was Tim Couch of Kentucky in 1998, and he went on to become a Heisman Trophy finalist.

ESPN’s Heisman Watch currently has Trask in second place and Pitts in fifth.

After the season opener in which Pitts caught four touchdowns, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said simply, “The tight end was unbelievable.”

“Two of the touchdowns he was double-covered on,” Kiffin added. “And obviously Kyle [Trask] knows what a player he is so he forces the ball to him and he has two touchdowns.”

On Saturday, Florida will go on the road to Texas A&M and Kyle Trask’s namesake of Kyle Field.

Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher gushed over Pitts on Monday, telling reporters that he was a tight end with wide receiver speed and the ability to catch contested passes. “When he’s covered,” Fisher marveled, “he’s still not covered.”

“And Trask does a really good job,” Fisher added. “I think [he’s] one of the best of the quarterbacks throwing to covered guys and throwing them open. And what I mean is putting the ball where they can get it, no one else can get it and they use the size and length and the ball skills to adjust. It’s a combination of Trask and [Pitts].”

Pitts really was double-covered when Trask threw him those two touchdowns against Ole Miss. And typically that’s a no-no. It’s better — and safer — to find an open receiver or just throw the ball away. But on one of those throws, Trask said he saw the defensive back’s back to him and thought, what the hell?

“So I just trusted him with the ball and let him do what he can do,” Trask said.

That level of trust has been years in the making, and now it’s paying off for the world to see. Pitts knows now that if a defender is giving him a certain look, he can expect Trask to put the ball in the exact right place, whether it’s a back-shoulder pass or a fade.

Their connection, Pitts said, “It’s one of a kind.”

“He trusts me,” he explained. “I trust him. … I may be double-teamed, but I’ve shown I can catch it. So I feel like I’m his safety button and he can know I’ll make a play.”

Pitts has always believed that Trask has been ready for this moment but that this offseason his game has “elevated” to another level. His arm has gotten stronger, Pitts said, and his accuracy has improved.

Trask said he went home to Houston and worked out with his former teammate-turned-Miami starting QB D’Eriq King two to three times a week. He dropped a few pounds to get quicker.

“When it was his time to shine,” Pitts said of his quarterback, “he was ready.”

To have gone from a career backup to a top contender in the Heisman race is a truly remarkable story, and Pitts said he’s “definitely” going to campaign for his quarterback to take home the award when the time comes.

“I want Kyle to win it,” he said.

Trask demurred, saying the Heisman buzz is “getting zero attention from me.”

But that doesn’t mean he won’t stump for his tight end eventually. Everyone in the program knew of Pitts’ potential and now, Trask said, that “journey” that began as a freshman is coming to fruition.

Pitts winning the Heisman would be a remarkable story in itself. Only two tight ends have ever won the award — Larry Kelley (1936) and Leon Hart (1949), who in that era of college football were just known as “ends” — but that was more than 70 years ago. The last tight end to put up the kind of numbers Pitts has this early in the season is, well, no one — at least no one in recent memory.

Pitts represents the modern tight end in that he can play attached to the line and block just as easily as he can split out and play receiver. Trask used the word “mismatch” to describe Pitts multiple times during an interview Monday.

Florida tight ends coach Tim Brewster said defenses are having to play “Where’s Waldo?” to find Pitts pre-snap. But their ability to motion him to a number of different positions makes that task nearly impossible.

Brewster, who as an assistant with the San Diego Chargers in 2003 helped develop a then-unknown and undrafted free agent named Antonio Gates, said there’s “really nothing this kid can’t do.”

“His athletic skill is on another level,” Brewster said. “He’s rare, absolutely rare as an athlete. And then you combine his mental perspective, and you see a guy who is playing the game at an extremely high level.”

Pair that with Trask and it’s no wonder they’re having the success they are, and in turn the success as a whole of Florida’s offense, which ranks fourth in the FBS in points per game (44.5).

Coming over from Texas A&M this offseason, Brewster said he has been blown away by the work ethic of the team. Everyone at Florida is talented, but the extra reps during and after practice is what separates the good from great. “And Trask and Pitts are two guys that lead the way with that,” he said.

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