OVIEDO, Fla. -- As disappointed as Oviedo (Fla.) Hagerty five-star quarterback Jeff Driskel was, it would have been easy for him to join his teammates in the locker room after a 28-21 loss to Winter Springs.
But the top-rated quarterback in the nation is the undisputed leader of this young program. Driskel, who's No. 12 in the ESPNU 150 and an Under Armour All-American, is the first major prospect the school has had in its four years of varsity football and he was the reason a national televised audience watched Friday's game. He didn't run off the field after the loss, instead stayed on the field, answered questions and did interviews. That's tough for seasoned pros, much less high school players.
"After last season we challenged Jeff to become more of a vocal leader," said Hagerty coach Nate Gierke. "And he has completely lived up to every expectation I had for him. He is accountable and the young guys in the program see that this top prospect is willing to put the team goal ahead of his personal goals. It's been an honor to coach him."
As good as the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder is off the field, he showed a small glimpse of the considerable talent he has on the field.
After falling behind 14-0, Driskel turned the offensive performance around with his feet and his arm.
On the team's first drive of the second quarter, Driskel busted off runs of 25 and 14 yards to put Hagerty on the board. Driskel continued moving the ball with his feet and precise short passing to tie the game with a second touchdown run. But on the team's final drive in the first half, Driskel showed his ability to make any throw when he connected on a post pattern with Zach Haywood to give the Huskies a 21-14 lead at the half.
"I thought we had a good first half and we were able to take advantage of the opportunities," Driskel said. "The guys were able to make some plays and the offensive line did a real good job."
The second half was a different story. Driskel's running lanes were quickly shut down and while he was able to show off his strong arm, some of his passes were dropped and others were well covered, but the leader in Driskel found a silver lining.
"We can still make the playoffs," Driskel said. "This was a setback but I know the guys in the locker room will bounce back."
Although he is just halfway through his senior season of high school, there's little doubt that Driskel is firmly implanted as Urban Meyer's quarterback of the future at the University of Florida. In some ways he might be the best fit that the Gators' offense has seen yet -- yes, even better than the great Tim Tebow.
Driskel is a big player, a little taller and stockier than the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner. He's a fast runner as well -- clocked at 4.6 -- and won the sprint competition during the ELITE 11 showcase that included top dual-threat quarterbacks like North Carolina commit Everett Golson (Myrtle Beach, S.C./Myrtle Beach). ESPN national director of recruiting Tom Luginbill said Driskel was the best quarterback at the showcase in the last five years.
"I can pick up a first down when I run it and I think that's a big part of my game," Driskel said. "If it's necessary I'll put my head down to get the yardage. I like to use my speed first if I can, but sometimes I have to use my physical ability. I'm ready to do whatever the coaches ask me to do."
But he's also a tremendous passer. He has a quick, sharp release and the ball flies out of his hand. He is accurate and crisp on his short passes, but shows the necessary touch to drop the ball in the perfect place on deep, corner routers.
It's the ability to run with speed, make all the throws and have the physical durability that could separate him from Chris Leak, John Brantley and maybe Tebow.
"It's an honor to be mentioned in the same breath with those guys," Driskel said. "Tim Tebow is one of the greatest to ever play the game.
"I just want to work hard and hopefully I'll have some of the success that those players have had."
Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.