Driskel adjusting to lofty comparisons
Quarterback Jeff Driskel is the face of Hagerty (Oviedo, Fla.) Huskies football.
In a program that is going into just its sixth year of varsity football, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound signal-caller is the school's first real big man on campus, literally and figuratively.
And with his commitment to the University of Florida, he has now put himself and his program in the spotlight. Much like current Gators quarterbacks John Brantley and Trey Burton, Driskel will be compared to one man from now until his time is Gainesville is done.
"I'd love to continue the standards he set on the field and off the field," Driskel said. "He is probably the greatest college football player to ever live. But at the same time, I have to make my own impact and be my own person."
Driskel is roughly the same size that Tebow was entering his senior year at Nease High School (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.). Both quarterbacks like to make plays with their feet and their arms.
Driskel understands that comparisons will continue to be made. It's something he's preparing himself for.
"Whenever you are linked to the football program at the University of Florida, all eyes are going to be on you," he added. "I know there will be people that have never seen me play [who will] develop a new interest in us and how well we play this season."
Whereas the Gators have had success recruiting talent from state championship-caliber programs like Lakeland and Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.), Driskel's program at Hagerty is still at least a few years away from that level of success.
"It's going to be our job as coaches to help this program get better," Hagerty coach Nate Gierke said. "Jeff has proven to us, the coaches at UF and many other coaches around the nation how good he is. I don't think anything that happens this year will change that."
Driskel understands that his success on the field could directly affect the success of the players around him in the program. After all, given the dozen or so college coaches who view each spring practice in the suburban Orlando school, the opportunities for his teammates to jump on a few recruiting boards exist as well.
"We've got a lot of talent on this team, guys that I've played with for a few years," Driskel added. "We want to get this program going in the right direction. I know everyone's looking at me to make that happen."
Everyone's been looking at Driskel since he became the starter for Hagerty three games into his freshman season. After his sophomore season Driskel's recruiting began to take form.
He began to make unofficial visits to schools and performed well in several camps. After his junior season, the quarterback was getting interest from Florida, Auburn, Tennessee, Alabama and LSU.
At the Gainesville Nike Football Training Camp in April, Driskel shined and was named the top quarterback in the event. Former NFL quarterback Browning Nagle dubbed Driskel a "complete playmaker." A day later, he made his commitment to Florida official.
I'd love to continue the standards [Tim Tebow] set on the field and off the field. He is probably the greatest college football player to ever live. But at the same time, I have to make my own impact and be my own person.” -- Florida commit Jeff Driskel
"I had visited a few schools but every time I went to Florida it felt right," Driskel said. "I wanted to be in the SEC because that's where the best football in the country is played. Florida is competing for national titles every year and they run an offense suited around the quarterback. I love everything about that program."
Driskel is finished with recruiting and planning to graduate early so he can arrive in Gainesville at the start of 2011. It's been a dramatic journey for a young man who lived in Japan during his younger years and didn't play football until he was in the seventh grade.
"He has such strong influence from his parents; his dad was in the Navy and they have kept him humble and grounded," Gierke added. "He is an ultracompetitive young man and the hardest-working player we've had in the program. Jeff doesn't display any sort of ego despite his individual accomplishments."
Driskel started in Hagerty's Pop Warner program as a fullback, but injuries moved him to quarterback early in his seventh-grade year and he's been working on mastering the position ever since.
"Right away I was impressed by his makeup," Gierke said. "He's mentally tough and mature beyond his years. He wants to be as close to perfect as he can. He even gets upset at himself when he misses a pass in practice. It's rare to have an opportunity to coach such a special player this early in a program's existence, but we've got it."
Driskel is also an excellent baseball player -- he hit .350 for the Huskies this season -- and would consider trying baseball in college as long as it doesn't hinder his progression in football.
Gierke says that Driskel is trying to become more of a vocal leader in preparation for what will be asked of him in the future. The coach also credits Driskel for the impressive turnout of players for spring practice.
"We have 120 players come out for spring football and a lot of that is due to Jeff," Gierke added. "Everyone wants to be around successful people and he is the type of young man that wants to reach out and help the players around him get better."
Driskel's goal for the season is to lead the Huskies to their first-ever playoff berth while embracing the new attention he is sure to receive from Gators fans and detractors.
"I look forward to the attention, you have to be able to handle it because Gator fans are used to watching the best players," Driskel added.
Gierke says there isn't anyone better to deal with the expectations.
"The Internet has changed the game so much, now everyone knows everything about you," Gierke said. "And to the fans on these message boards, you're only as good as your last play. But Jeff has been the flag bearer for this program since he got here and I couldn't think of a better person to represent us."
Corey Long covers college football recruiting for ESPN.com. Check out his recruiting blog here. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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