OVIEDO , Fla. – The Hagerty High School football team isn’t very well known outside of the tight-knit Central Florida community of Oviedo .
The Huskies have won just five games in their first three years of existence and the school itself is only five years old.
However, despite their lack of wins and tradition on the gridiron, the Huskies have already produced a top national recruit that had every college coach in the country drooling.
Jeff Driskel , the Huskies’ 6-foot-4, 230-pound quarterback, was recently ranked as the top quarterback in the 2011 national recruiting class by both Rivals and ESPN.
The ESPN150 ranked him as the 14th best overall athlete in the nation, while Rivals put him at No. 31.
“I’m proud of it, but it’s not really that big of a deal,” the junior said of the national rankings. “I think when I got my first [scholarship] offer, that was more of a big deal to me. These were just rankings by people. It’s nice to be honored, but it’s not as big of a deal to me as it would be to other people.”
Driskel is coming off of a junior season where he threw for 1,427 yards and 11 touchdowns while completing exactly 50 percent of his passes (105-210). He also rushed for six TDs .
The Huskies struggled to a 2-8 record, but Driskel helped the team win two of their last three games.
He has started 28 of 30 games for the Huskies over the last three years and has racked up 3,021 passing yards and 34 total touchdowns (21 passing, 13 rushing) in his career.
“He’s the best quarterback I’ve ever coached or seen in person,” Hagerty head football coach Nate Gierke said. “He’s got the athletic package that everybody’s looking for in a quarterback. He’s got a great arm. He’s got great mechanics, which is what everyone is really talking about.
" But you combine his passing ability with the fact that he runs a 4.5 second 40-yard dash and he’s 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds...you put all that together and you have everything you’re looking for in a kid.”
Driskel was one of the most sought-after prospects in the football-rich state of Florida.
Gierke says he knew what he had in Driskel very early on and began coaching his QB’s parents on what they were about to go through in the recruiting process.
“We played Deltona Pine Ridge high school during his sophomore year,” Gierke said. “It was a game that could have potentially gotten us into the playoffs.
" They ended up beating us for the district runner-up spot. Jeff threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns and I remember calling his parents the next day and saying, “You all need to get a second mailbox.’”
Auburn was the first team to show interest, extending him a verbal scholarship offer during the summer before his junior season.
Other SEC powerhouses like the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide, Tennessee and Louisiana State also extended offers as did other BCS powers like Arizona State, Clemson, Illinois and Virginia Tech.
He ultimately decided to hitch his wagon onto a perennial national power, the University of Florida. Driskel committed to the Gators this past April.
“I went to five camps last year and several games,” Driskel said of the recruiting process. “I visited Auburn quite a few times. I visited Gainesville quite a few times as well. Every time I went there, it just felt right.
"There was just something about the atmosphere that I really liked. And every time I saw their practice, that’s what really sold it for me. All the players were out there and excited and working hard. I just want to be part of it.”
The Gators coaching staff declined to comment on this article because NCAA rules prohibit coaches or staff from commenting on prospective student-athletes until they have signed a national letter of intent.
Gierke has had plenty of experience dealing with college football recruiters during his previous assistant coaching gigs with Dr. Phillips and Edgewater , where he and his father (head coach Bill Gierke ) led the Eagles to three consecutive Class 6A state title games from 2002-2004.
He’s helped guide Doug Gabriel (WR for the Oakland Raiders), Mike Sims-Walker (WR for the Jacksonville Jaguars), Lorenzo Edwards (LB at Florida) and Greg Mathews starting (WR at Michigan for 4 years) land high-profile scholarship opportunities.
He says Driskel couldn’t have picked a better program to play his college ball.
“It’s probably the No. 1 program in the country,” Gierke said of the Gators. “Coach Meyer has won two national championships since he got there. The storied history that they have there is incredible.
" He’s going to go play for a quarterbacks coach, Scot Loeffler , who has coached maybe the best quarterback of all time in Tom Brady and another NFL QB in Chad Henne .
“They play in a very exciting offense. One of the things that really sold him on Florida was some of the things that they’re doing with John Brantley. He’s a different type of quarterback than what Tim Tebow was.
" They’re tailoring their offense to emphasize his strengths. Jeff knows that they’re going to adapt the offense to his strengths when it’s his turn to be the starter.”
The Huskies run many different kinds of offensive sets during the season, featuring everything from the option, to the shotgun formation and the spread.
Gierke says he’s tried to get Driskel exposed to as many different offensive schemes as possible to prepare him for the next level.
Driskel will have some competition for snaps behind center once he enrolls early next spring in Gainesville .
Brantley will have another year as the starter in 2011, in theory. The Gators only have two other freshmen on the depth chart at QB for this coming season: Trey Burton and Jordan Reed. They also have hybrid QB threat Tyler Murphy committed for the 2011 class.
But Driskel is the only true QB option going forward for the Gators.
“I knew going into a program like Florida there was going to be all kinds of pressure,” Driskel said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m just going to go in and compete and hopefully I earn a chance to contribute.”
As soon as he signed with the Gators, ‘experts’ started to make the inevitable comparisons to the legendary Tim Tebow . His size and ability to make just as big of an impact with his running game make him a very comparable signal caller.
However, Gierke says he reminds him more of Brantley, because of his pure passing ability and flawless mechanics.
Driskel has not been fazed by all the hype he’s received and says he’s just thrilled to be mentioned in the same sentence as one of the best college football players ever.
“A couple of people have compared me to Tebow , which I was proud of and I took as a great compliment,” Driskel said. “He’s a great player with an even better personality. To be compared to one of, if not the best, college football players ever is a huge honor.”
“At first it was kind of stunning to think that he’s the No. 1 quarterback in the country,” Driskel’s friend and top receiving target Tyler Thrift said. “But he deserves every ounce of it.
" It doesn’t shock me a bit because he’s a freak. He’s so big. He works so hard and he’s always trying to improve his game and it’s working out for him.”
Gierke says he’s been impressed with the way Driskel has composed himself during the entire recruiting process.
“He’s a humble kid,” Gierke said. “He’s got the kind of personality that can take on the level of attention. But I think a lot of the pressure is off of him now because he committed early. He’s comfortable with his position right now. “
Gierke went on to criticize the explosive growth in popularity of college football recruiting through Internet sites.
“To me, it’s changing the course of the recruiting process and it’s making it more and more difficult for kids to get recruited,” Gierke said. “Because if you’re not on somebody’s list by your sophomore year, you’re facing an uphill battle because people don’t know your name.
"The college coaches are relying on all these Internet people to do the research for them and to be honest they don’t always have the information. These are 17-year-old kids we’re talking about, it’s not the NFL Draft.”
When you’re the top-rated QB in the nation, you’re obviously pretty satisfied with the state of your game.
But Driskel is a tireless worker and is committed to improving and carrying his team to the playoffs though he knows every defense in Central Florida will be gunning for him this year.
Gierke says Driskel needs to focus on being more outspoken and learning to be a true leader.
“He’s got the kind of personality where kids want to follow him, but he’s got to be more vocal,” Gierke said. “It’s something he’s going to need.
" On a good night here we might pack it in up to three or four thousand people a game. He’ll be trading that in for 90,000 here pretty soon. So he’s going to need that vocal ability to reach those kids.”
Driskel will be facing an uphill battle again this year as the youthful Huskies face six playoff teams from a year ago in their schedule, including Edgewater , Seminole, St. Cloud and Lake Brantley all on the road.
His main goal is to make history with the Huskies by leading them to their first Class 5A, District 3 title and a trip to the state playoffs.
“We’re tired of losing,” Driskel said. “We’ll do whatever it takes. That’s going to be huge momentum going into the summer and hopefully we can carry that into next fall. Hopefully it’s not just me that puts us on the map. Hopefully it’s our team and our wins that does it.
" We want to win the district title this year and that will get the program going for the future. We haven’t had a winning season, hopefully we can get that this year and get ourselves into the playoffs. We’ll see where it goes from there.”