Updated on Monday at 10:50 a.m.
Florida Gators redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel knew at the end of the regular season, with a new coaching staff taking over, that it would be his best bet to play the final year of his collegiate career elsewhere.
But he did not announce that decision immediately, choosing instead to remain with the teammates he has played beside for the last four years as they took on East Carolina in the 2015 Birmingham Bowl.
However, minutes before the game began, new head coach Jim McElwain officially let the cat out of the bag, telling gathered media members that Driskel had asked for his release, a request the coach did not think twice about granting.
“We all have choices,” he told multiple reporters in attendance at the bowl game, “and I’m not going to hold him hostage.”
Driskel, relegated to a reserve role since Nov. 1, watched as freshman QB Treon Harris started the contest. He was inserted rather early in the game with Florida backed up near its own goal line but was not expecting to see much action overall. But injuries to Harris (elbow, knee) put Driskel back in the contest, and a decision by interim coach D.J. Durkin kept him there for the duration of the game.
Though he did not lead the Gators on a scoring drive in a handful of consecutive opportunities, Driskel took care of the ball. He completed 8-of-17 passes for 48 yards (at least three of his attempts were dropped by would-be pass catchers) and helped ice the victory for Florida on its final offensive series with a nine-yard bootleg run on third down.
Durkin offered praise for Driskel’s effort during his post-game press conference.
“I think it was outstanding,” he said.
“I think it says a lot about him as a person, too, the amount of adversity he’s had to go through in his career. To be honest with you, I don’t know if I could last through that, what he’s going through, especially at his age. It just says a lot about him; it says a lot about our team. Our guys still believed in him; he believed in his teammates.
“I’m just very happy for him how it all worked out. He was able to go in there, play in the game and able to help us get a win.”
Up next for Driskel is finding a new program to call home. He graduated in the fall and will be eligible to play immediately, meaning Driskel will assuredly be searching for a starting opportunity as he vets those interested in his services.
Update: Driskel has decided to transfer to Louisiana Tech. He should step in as a starter for the Bulldogs, which lost their primary signal caller to graduation.
“There have been rumors going around that I am going to leave the University of Florida and transfer to Louisiana Tech University for my fifth and final year of eligibility. This is indeed true, and I look forward to the upcoming chapter of my life,” Driskel said in a school release. “I have nothing but good things to say about the University of Florida and the football program there.
“I am grateful for the opportunities that have been presented to me over the course of the past four years. Although things did not play out on the field as I would have liked, I have no regrets on the choice I made to attend UF. Again, I appreciate everything that my coaches, teammates, strength coaches, athletic trainers, equipment staff, academic staff, fans, and the University of Florida have done for me.”
A former five-star prospect, Driskel ends his time at Florida with a 23-to-20 passing touchdown-to-interception ratio, 11-to-13 over the last two seasons. He completed 59.4 percent of his passes, averaging 10.4 yards per completion. He also scored nine rushing touchdowns and averaged 2.9 yards per carry due to the high number of sacks he took.
Harris and classmate Will Grier are expected to compete for the Gators’ starting job in 2015. Grier will received a redshirt for the 2014 season after not stepping on the field.