As a hotshot high school signee with Florida, Jeff Driskel never imagined he would end his college career in the New Orleans Bowl.
When he thought of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, he pictured himself as a starting NFL quarterback, certainly by 2015.
Yet, he is quite content with the way things worked out. After four frequently frustrating years with the Gators, he found redemption as a graduate transfer at Louisiana Tech.
“Going into Florida, I thought I was going to play for three years and be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft,” he said. “That’s how you draw it up, but you never know how things are going to play out. You just have to trust the process and enjoy it. I’m happy it ended up this way.”
Driskel, the No. 1 pro-style quarterback prospect in the country in 2011 according to Rivals.com, started 21 times at Florida and threw for 200 or more yards on only five occasions.
At Louisiana Tech, he has averaged 297.9 passing yards, reaching at least 200 in all but one game.
At Florida, he fractured a bone in a leg in 2013, ending his season by the third game. A year later, he was benched after going 7 of 19 for 50 yards with two interceptions in a 42-13 loss to Missouri in October.
At Louisiana Tech, he has thrown 24 touchdown passes, three more than his career total before he arrived.
When the Bulldogs (8-4) face Sun Belt champion Arkansas State (9-3) on Saturday night, Driskel will get one more chance to display the full range of talent that made him such a highly sought recruit.
“It’s been huge personally,” he said. “I always knew that I had the talent and ability to get it done.”
Driskel’s character never was in question at Florida, and neither was his skill set.
Strong arm? Check. Size (6-foot-4, 231 pounds) and speed (4.5 40-yard dash)? Check.
But something clearly was missing in Gainesville, and Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz heard all the doubters before Driskel took the practice field for the first time in Ruston.
Any concerns disappeared quickly.
“I was like, ‘Wow,’” Holtz said. “I was worried if he could learn the offense. Well, that’s not the problem. I was worried if he could make decisions. That’s not the problem. Could he process at the speed you need to be able to? That’s not the problem.”
The problems have come for Louisiana Tech’s opponents. Driskel ranks 15th nationally in passing yards per game and 26th in efficiency. He threw for more than 300 yards against all five bowl teams the Bulldogs played and was nearly flawless until he tossed three interceptions in a regular season-ending 58-24 loss to Southern Miss that decided the Conference USA West title.
He also ran for four touchdowns through Louisiana Tech’s first three games, finishing second on the team with 307 rushing yards.
“He’s a big dude,” Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson said. “If you get him in a one-on-one situation, you’ve got to be able to get him to the ground, which is not easy. He’s built like most tight ends we play, but a lot faster.”
Driskel proved his mettle right away in Ruston. Four-year starting running back Kenneth Dixon said Driskel beat everyone the first day the team ran at the end of spring practice. Safety Kentrell Brice said he raced Driskel after a voluntary seven-on-seven workout and could not leave him behind.
Yet, Driskel showed no trace of an attitude.
“Everybody bought into Jeff because Jeff came in and bought into us,” Dixon said. “He didn’t come from the SEC and act like most guys would have. He came in with a chip on his shoulder, and he prepared well. He has a cannon of an arm, and he’s one of the great quarterbacks to ever play at Louisiana Tech.”
The last time Driskel played in the Superdome, he tossed a pick-six on the first play of Florida’s 33-23 loss to Louisville on Jan. 2, 2013, setting the tone for a rough night.
Given a second shot, he can complete his final act of redemption.
“When I was at Florida, there were plenty of people who said ‘You can’t do this, go get an insurance job or something like that,’ ” he said. “But if you really want something and are willing to put in the effort, you can do anything you put your mind to. I think I’ve proven to people that I belong in the NFL.”