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Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel started physical therapy this week following a season-ending leg injury in September.

Thursday November 7, 2013Driskel Eager to Return to Field; Junior QB Had Cast Removed This Week

Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel started physical therapy this week following a season-ending leg injury in September.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jeff Driskel imagined a much different junior season when he ran onto the field for the opener against Toledo.

In late August, Driskel had visions of a trip to Atlanta, some big wins along the way, and perhaps much more if all the chips fell into place.

Driskel savored a more personal victory on Tuesday. He finally had the cast removed from his lower right leg, a result of a season-ending broken fibula on Sept. 21 against Tennessee.

Another small victory followed on Wednesday when Driskel was able to start physical therapy.

Jeff Driskel

"I did some motion in my ankle,'' Driskel said. "It didn't hurt when I was moving it around, so that's good. It's great to be out of the cast to where I can move it around."

In what has turned into an injury-plagued season for the 4-4 Gators heading into Saturday's Homecoming game against Vanderbilt, you can make the argument that the loss of Driskel hurt the most. Some might say it was the loss of defensive tackle Dominique Easley three days later in practice.

Regardless, when a team loses its starting quarterback and defensive leader for the season in a span of less than 72 hours, the aftermath is rarely just a bump in the road.

Driskel struggled to cope with his first major injury in the days after Tennessee defensive end Marlon Walls fell on his lower right leg in the first quarter of Florida's 31-17 win over the Vols seven weeks ago.

"I knew it was broken,'' he said. "I've never broken a bone before, but I felt a snap and I knew it wasn't good when I tried to stand up and my leg kind of gave out a little bit. I was definitely walking off that field. After a pick six, I'm not going to have anybody come and get me."

Driskel immediately waved to the sideline as Tennessee's Devaun Swafford raced 62 yards on the interception to put the Vols in front. Still, he was able to make it to the sideline under his own power before the team's medical personnel gave him crutches and took him to the locker room.

He soon learned that nine quarters into the season he was done for the year.

"Everybody likes to think it's not going to happen to them, but unfortunately it's happened to a lot of us this year,'' Driskel said. "I was real, real bummed for the first week or two just because I worked a lot in the offseason and I thought this was going to be a good year for myself and a good year for us, and then it was taken away all on one play.

"It was very disappointing, but like I've told a lot of people, I'm not the first one to ever get hurt. It's part of the game. Looking back is not going to do anything for anybody. I'm going to do what I can to be ready for spring ... control what I can control and get better for next year."

Driskel was limited in what he could do until this week. He couldn't begin rehab until the bone healed. He had surgery four days after the injury to have a metal plate inserted into his leg. The recovery process is estimated at six months.

To stay involved with the team, Driskel has attended team meetings and tried to help Tyler Murphy, who took over as the starter, any way he can during their meetings with offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

"It's very important [to be in meetings]. Just because I'm missing time on the field doesn't mean I'm missing time learning," he said. "I wouldn't say I'm getting quite the mental reps I would be getting on the practice field, but I'm definitely staying involved, knowing the game plan, seeing the plays on TV. I know what the plays are, so I'm more than just a standard fan in that aspect.

"More than anything, it's just being around the guys. If I didn't go to meetings and stuff like that, I would rarely see them."

A true junior, since Driskel will have played in less than 30 percent of the Gators’ games by season’s end, he can apply to the SEC for a medical hardship waiver in December and still have two years of eligibility remaining.

Prior to his season ending, Driskel completed 42 of 61 passes (68.9 percent) with two touchdowns and three interceptions. While Murphy has performed capably under difficult circumstances, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Driskel's arm strength and athleticism have been missed at times.

As the Gators prepare to host Vanderbilt in an important game to keep their bowl hopes alive, it stirs memories of Driskel's record-setting performance in Nashville a year ago. In a 31-17 win over the Commodores, Driskel scored three touchdowns and rushed for 177 yards, a UF record for a quarterback.

After winning a quarterback battle with fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett during the 2012 fall camp, Driskel led the Gators to an 11-2 record and established himself as the Gators' quarterback of the future. Brissett opted to transfer to N.C. State after the season.

Driskel hopes to be able to get back on the field during spring practice.

"That's a goal I want to meet and I'll do everything that I can,'' he said. "If I'm not ready, I won't push anything and I know the training staff is going to do whatever is best for me. We've got a great staff on hand and they're going to do everything they possibly can to help me."

Driskel expects to take another small step Saturday. He plans to be on the sideline when the Gators host Vanderbilt. Florida has not played at home in over a month and Driskel was unable to travel. He has watched the games on TV but is looking forward to joining his teammates on the sideline.

"It was just a waiting game for a long time,'' Driskel said. "I couldn't do anything. The only thing I could really do was stay off it. It's been tough. You can't really do much or go anywhere. A lot of Netflix."

 

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