From the quarterback of the future, we turn to the quarterback of the present, Jeff Driskel, with under a week left before kickoff. Driskel has had a roller coaster career at Florida, but certainly has the talent to lead the Gators back to prominence. He always fit like a square peg in a round hole in Brent Pease’s offense, but now he’ll have a chance to full off his full array of skills in Kurt Roper’s new philosophy.
Hagerty High School in Oveido, FL is a small school outside of Orlando. The school decided to start their football program when Driskel was a freshman and he helped lead the program to winning football. He was the Huskies QB since their inception and he was clearly the best player on the field regardless of who they played. Driskel threw for 4,844 yards and 36 touchdowns in his prep career and also proved he was a threat to take off with the ball. He showed improvement every year he played, jumping from 558 yards, 4 TDs, and a 47.5 percent completion rate in his sophomore season to 1,427 yards and 11 TDs while completing half of his passes his junior year. Driskel also showed off his legs, rushing for 101 yards and three touchdowns during his sophomore campaign and 170 yards and five TDs is junior season. But his senior year was very impressive.
During his senior season, Driskel worked his way up to the nation’s elite. He had his best season statistically and Hagerty had its first winning season in football history. Driskel threw for 1,819 yards and 15 touchdowns, adding another 1,333 yards and 20 TDs on the ground. He even managed to haul in a couple of passes for 138 yards and touchdowns on both receptions. He showed it all in his senior season for the Huskies and it led to accolade after accolade. Driskel was named the Maxwell Football Club’s National High School Player of the Year and Gatorade Florida Player of the years following his last prep season. He earned a spot at the 2011 Under Armour All-American game in St. Petersburg and in the process showed his ground game off. He rushed for 93 yards on six carries, including a 63 yard touchdown scamper.
Tim Tebow might be the first comparison that comes to mind looking at those highlights. With a 6-4, 235 pound frame and 4.5 40-yard dash speed, he shows some nifty moves and athleticism, as well as a nose for the endzone. All of his work on the field, as well as his leadership off the field, made him a sought after commodity by nearly every college football program. Who wouldn’t want a five-star and top-ranked dual-threat QB, the sixth-ranked Floridian, and 16th overall player of the 2011 recruiting class? Driskel chose Florida over Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss and Clemson and seemingly any other major program you could think of.
Driskel decided to enroll early and it paid off with playing time early on. He played in five games for the Gators and struggled the way you may think a true freshman would. He threw for 148 yards and two interceptions, while completing only 47.1 percent of his passes. He came on for the injured John Brantley and was able to manage the longest run given up by Alabama on their national title season. His 31 yard rush against the stout Crimson Tide defense was his highlight of the year. Later on in the game, however, he sprained his left ankle.
After John Brantley graduated from UF, Driskel was embroiled in a quarterback battle with Jacoby Brissett that nearly lasted all season. He also began to show some injury concerns. In fall camp, Driskel injured his left shoulder. It didn’t seem to bother him too much as he went on to start week one. In the opener against Bowling Green, both Driskel and Brissett started, with Brissett taking the snap and Driskel lining up at wide receiver. Driskel went on to play the rest of the game at QB and had a decent day, throwing for 114 yards and a TD and rushing for 24 yards. He had a decent season for Florida, throwing for 1,646 yards and 12 touchdowns while completing 63.7 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 413 yards and four touchdowns (keep in mind that total should be higher since the college game subtracts sack yardage off of rushing totals). His best game came against Tennessee where he threw for 219 yards and two TDs, including a 75-yarder to Frankie Hammond Jr. and added 81 yards on the ground. He was awarded with the SEC Offensive Player of the Week after his effort against the Vols. Driskel also broke Tebow’s record for rushing yards by a QB in a game when he went for 177 yards against Vanderbilt. He missed the Jacksonville State game with a right ankle injury, but went on to lead the Gators to an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl berth on the season.
Last season had high hopes for Driskel but it started out ominously. He had an emergency appendectomy in fall camp before season started and missed a lot of practice time. But he was the clear-cut starter for Florida as Brissett decided to transfer to NC State. He started three games for Florida before being lost for the season with a broken right fibula against Tennessee. In that time, he threw for 477 yards and two touchdowns, while adding another 38 yards and a score on the ground. Driskel set a career high in yardage against Miami with 291 yards, but the Gators went on to lose that game and missed his leadership along the way. He was able to get a medical redshirt for the season.
The practices leading up to camp couldn’t have gone better for Driskel. There have been reports that he hasn’t thrown a single interception since fall camp started. He’s the unquestioned leader of the Gators and will have to bounce back strong with Will Grier and Treon Harris behind him. But Driskel has the talent and experience now to lead Florida to a renaissance a la Auburn a year ago. And with Roper giving him the keys to his shiny new car, he could have his best season yet. He might even draw more comparisons to a certain No. 15 in Orange and Blue.