GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Jeff Driskel's last pass at Florida Field ended in severe pain.
He broke his right leg against Tennessee in September, causing him to miss the final nine games of the season and leaving the Gators reeling on offense.
Driskel got up and walked off the field after the gruesome injury, which gave teammates and coaches a new level of respect for their starting quarterback.
"He's as tough a competitor that I've been around," coach Will Muschamp said. "To have him walk off the field with what happened to him, he's a lot tougher than me. It just says something about his toughness, his mental edge and what he's got about him."
Nearly a year later, Driskel is healthy and hoping to lead the Gators back to prominence in the Southeastern Conference. Florida opens the season Saturday against Idaho, a seemingly overmatched opponent that should provide the Gators a better-than-decent chance at ending a seven-game losing streak.
But if the Gators are going to have the kind of season they envision - a turnaround similar to what fellow SEC teams Auburn and Missouri enjoyed last year - they need Driskel to stay healthy. It's something he hasn't done in three years in Gainesville.
In an effort to keep Driskel upright, on the field and more comfortable, Florida overhauled its scheme after three years of ground-and-pound offense that resulted in more contempt than cheer.
Muschamp hired Kurt Roper as offensive coordinator, and the former Duke play-caller installed an up-tempo spread system that puts Driskel in the shotgun and gets the ball out of his hands considerably quicker than before.
"I think I understand what we're doing really well," Driskel said. "Schematically, where we want to go with the ball in certain situations, when we want to do run checks. I really do have an understanding of how to study film, how to look at an opponent and what to look for. All the time I've put in is really starting to payoff. The game has really slowed down a lot."
Driskel's season came to a halt in the first quarter against Tennessee when he fell to the ground following an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Trainers wanted to cart him off the field, but he refused.
It was a memorable moment for Driskel, the team and the 90,000 in attendance.
"I wasn't trying to be a hero," said Driskel said. "I wasn't trying to have any kind of moment or anything like that. I don't know if it shows toughness or shows leadership, but at the end of the day, football is a tough sport and you've got to be able to show off that toughness at times. I'm just looking forward to this year and trying not to think about that."
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