Former Gator quarterback Jeff Driskel had his best season at UF in 2012, when he led the team to an 11-2 record, a Sugar Bowl appearance, and a national No. 9 ranking at the end of the season. But he suffered a season-ending leg injury in 2013, then struggled in 2014 before transferring to Louisiana Tech for his senior year.
Driskel, a quarterback for the Houston Texans, recently appeared with his wife, former Gator cheerleader Tarin Driskel, on local radio station The Shepherd to talk about the past and present. Driskel discussed his setbacks, his transfer, and maintaining a career in the NFL.
The couple also reflected on their marriage, their joint Driskel Family Camp, and life together in professional sports.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The full conversation is available on iTunes.
MIKE GILLAND: I’m talking to Jeff Driskel and his wife, Tarin. Jeff is a quarterback for the Houston Texans, but a former Gator who was so exciting to watch. Tell me about the summer camp you do.
JEFF: We started doing a football and cheer camp after our second year in the league and it’s something we’re very passionate about, giving an opportunity to kids. It’s a free opportunity for kids to come out and be instructed by NFL players, former college players, just a good group of people that care about the community, and give these kids an opportunity to have a little fun during the summer.
We provide them lunch, provide them shirts, provide them with little toys and gifts and swag, as we like to call it. It really grew into something really cool. We had about 200 kids at our last event. We missed the last two years, but we’re going to be doing the camp again this summer, June 25, at The First Academy in Orlando, and it’s for boys and girls football and cheer, K through 8.
GILLAND: And you’ll be working with the cheerleaders as well?
TARIN: We felt like we had a unique opportunity that not a lot of people have. A lot of NFL players do the football camp, but not a lot can also offer a cheer aspect for the little girls. We felt it called on our heart a couple years ago to start this, and we’ve been blessed to offer both the football and cheer camp.
GILLAND: You’re an NFL quarterback for the Houston Texans right now, but catch us up. How many teams have you played for?
JEFF: I was drafted by San Francisco, got cut the first year, so then I went to Cincinnati. Then I was in Cincinnati for all of three years and then an offseason, and then got hurt and went to Detroit. I was in Detroit for a season, then I was a free agent and I signed with Denver on a two-year contract. That two-year contract turned into a one-year contract when I got cut after the first year.
Then I signed with the Houston Texans before last season and, just recently, re-signed with Houston for another year. So going into year seven now and making a career of it.
GILLAND: It is really a tough life—it’s not guaranteed. There’s not quite the level of glamor even for you players that some would think that’s there. It’s a lot of hard work, isn’t it?
JEFF: I think if you go into the position of playing sports at a high level, if you’re in it simply for the glamor and the glory or the recognition, you’re going to be let down. There are too many variables that go into success or failure, especially in a team sport like football, that you just can’t let the outcome determine the rest of your life and what that looks like.
It’s a trap that a lot of us get caught in. I’ve been caught in that trap before, and I’ve felt the spiral effect of being let down and letting it affect the rest of your life.
GILLAND: When you went into professional sports, do you feel looking back at it now that you were mentally prepared for all that’s there? Or was that like it is with most guys that I’ve talked to—a little bit of a shock?
JEFF: I think I was prepared. I think the bigger difference was going from high school to college. Playing at the University of Florida is about as close as you can get to what the NFL life looks like, so I think I was prepared for the next level.
Obviously, it’s a big jump physically and mentally, as far as the game goes, but you have to start to handle other things as well outside of football that just being a professional brings—taxes, finding a house, finding a place to live, worrying about your family.
I think going through the University of Florida ups and downs, transferring to Louisiana Tech, I think that set me up moving forward to be able to handle adverse times.
GILLAND: Now I read an article about your time at Florida and you felt that it wasn’t all what you had hoped it would be and you’re aware that maybe you didn’t do what others had expected of you. People may not have that story right from just reading what’s on the internet, so why don’t you give us the story about what happened at Florida?
JEFF: I was very heavily recruited out of high school, the top quarterback in the entire country, won the Gatorade State Player of the Year, won Maxwell National Football Player of the Year, which is essentially the Heisman of high school football, and they flew my family out to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Cam Newton won the college version of that award and Michael Vick won the pro version. So we were on the same stage together.
I say all that to say the scale of how highly recruited I was, how successful I was as a high school athlete. There’s all kinds of these ranking systems, and I was top on all of them. People live, breathe and die by recruiting—that’s a big part of the fan base.
So walking into my freshman year, I was 17 years old, because I graduated from high school early, and everybody knew who I was, from students to faculty to just people who lived in Gainesville who are fans to people hitting me up on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. ‘You’re the next guy, you’re going to bring us a national championship, be three and out, be the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, be a Heisman winner…’
And I started believing it. Why not believe that when you’ve had nothing but success up to this point? But it didn’t quite work out that way. I still had a successful career, won a lot of games.
I had a great experience at Florida, but when expectations are that high, it’s hard to meet. And I don’t think I met my expectations. I wish I played better, I wish we won more games. I think I was definitely successful there, but I don’t think that I met my goals or expectations that were kind of built up by the media and other fans, and that’s OK.
MIKE: And that would be kind of like the Gator Nation mentality on what it takes to make it. This is both, simultaneously, the greatest place to be and maybe the most scary place to be. It’s tough to make it here, both as a player and as a coach.
JEFF: It’s hard, the expectations are real, as they should be. It’s a first class university, a first class football program, and the expectations are high. We would win games and fans would be mad because we didn’t win by 20; we won by 15.
It’s crazy, but that’s the reality of sports at that level. You just have to take everything with a grain of salt. When they were building me up, telling me I was going to be the first overall pick, Heisman winner, I should have been able to block that out as well as when they were telling me how bad I was.
It’s only helped me in my career. It has set me up for being on an even bigger scale in the NFL. I’m able to just worry about what’s inside of my building, inside of my family and the people that really matter. To be able to block out all that noise that really doesn’t mean anything.