The former starting quarterback still admits the last few weeks have been tough. Any competitor, especially a quarterback that went into his third season as the starter, misses the role of the starting quarterback at Florida.
He’s still preparing with the mentality of a starter, knowing he’s one snap away from being back under center for the Gators. But that’s not his role anymore. Instead, it has become supporting and encouraging freshman Treon Harris.
“It’s definitely tough,” Jeff Driskel said. “Being a competitor, you always want to be the guy to have the ball. At the end of the day, I think it goes back to I was raised right. I think my parents did a really good job of instilling a sense of the team is greater than the individual.”
Harris started for the first time against Georgia, and Driskel didn’t even get on the field that day. He said he could have if Harris went down, but a back injury kept him on the sideline for the entire game. The back injury originally occurred against LSU and bothered him during the next week of practice. He still started against Missouri, but it ended up being the final start of his career.
On Saturday in Nashville, Driskel got back on the field. It came in the wildcat package, ending with four rushes for 10 yards and one touchdown while throwing one incomplete pass. For his shortcomings as a thrower this season, Driskel can still run and has the frame to handle hits that would put the smaller Harris at risk.
Driskel has handled the move to the backup position well, and he said it’s something he would expect anyone on the team to do.
"I think everybody on the team should have the same sense of responsibility to the team,” Driskel said. “At the end of the day, it's a team sport and everybody has to contribute and do their part. If mine's the backup and not getting any plays at all, I want to be ready in case Treon goes down.
“If it's being in a Wildcat type role, I want to be ready and able to run the ball and understand the blocking schemes and the defense we're going to get. That's not just me that feels that type of responsibility. I think that's something you have to have in a team sport."
The wildcat role isn’t a new one under Kurt Roper. He used Brandon Connette as a running quarterback in recent years, but he had multiple years of experience in that role. They’re trying to fast track Driskel to better his understanding of the package, and Roper has shown plenty of film to Driskel of what Connette ran in his offense.
While accepting that role, there was never much hesitation in Driskel’s mind. He knew what he had to do and the example he wanted to set from his teammates. Despite the boos in the stadium, the support from others has helped him.
The support reached a new level on Tuesday afternoon. On Veterans Day, Driskel saw a note on social media directed to him from retired Navy Capt. E.R. Gilkison. The note was sent to encourage Driskel and compliment him for handling the adversity as well as he has. Driskel was encouraged by it when he spoke to the media on Tuesday.
"I'd like to say thanks to Captain Gilkison, (who) sent me a nice letter,” Driskel said. “I saw it on the Internet today and that was one of the most heart-warming things that I've ever gotten.”
That kind of support has helped Driskel accept what his role on the team needs to be. He has to support Harris and help him through the difficulties that come with being a freshman quarterback in the SEC. Driskel learned about that all too well in 2011, getting playing time when John Brantley was hurt.
Being a sounding board for Harris has made been an important role for Driskel to fill.
“There’s some situations he hasn’t been in as often as I have,” Driskel said. “There’s just little tips. I’m not going out of my way to try to take over or anything like this. It’s just simple tips and reminders on the practice field and on the sideline.”
Watching Harris take over the offense has shown his talent on the field. Even Driskel has been impressed with how well the freshman has played.
“He’s definitely a talented player, and he’s intelligent,” Driskel said. “He knows what we’re trying to do. He’s a smart guy, and I’m willing to help him out as much as I can. I’m happy to see him being successful so far.”