Quarterbacks put football first

UT’s Owens, Florida’s Driskel keep baseball plans on hold


GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Maybe some day Jeff Driskel will be swinging it, and Terrance Owens will be slinging it.

For now neither wishes to make an audible to his secondary sport.

The quarterbacks in today’s matchup at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium are linked in an uncommon way in that both are contracted to a Major League Baseball organization.

Owens, the University of Toledo senior left-hander, was taken by the San Diego Padres in the final round of the 2012 draft. Driskel, a junior entering his second year starting with 10th-ranked Florida, went to the Boston Red Sox in the 29th round this past June.

Neither player has put on a baseball uniform since he was in high school.

What does all this talk mean in relation to a football season opener? Not much, perhaps, but as Owens said, “it’s pretty exciting.”

Owens, whom the Padres project as a pitcher, learned of his being drafted during a phone call while eating dinner. He assumed a friend was playing a prank.

Driskel’s story is even better. Fighting scant cell-phone reception during a hog hunting trip in Florida, Driskel checked his phone to see if people he knew had been selected. Driskel then saw his own name pop up.

“That was out of nowhere,” said Driskel, an outstanding high school center fielder in Florida. “They called me the next day and they explained that they’re willing to risk a 29th round pick not showing up to get me.”

Like Owens, Driskel signed a contract but maintained NCAA eligibility. And like Owens, Driskel hopes to make a career in football and to never play baseball again.

“It’s nice to have playing for the Red Sox as a good backup plan,” he said.

Driskel, the nation’s top-ranked senior quarterback in 2011, had a decent debut season a year ago, leading the Gators to an 11-2 record and a share of the Southeastern Conference Eastern division title.

He threw for only 1,646 yards in Florida’s ball-control scheme but completed 63 percent of his attempts and tossed 12 touchdowns to five interceptions.

Driskel added 413 yards on the ground, providing a spark to an offense that ranked No. 104 nationally. Five teams from the Sunshine State finished higher than the Gators.

Driskel, who missed time this preseason recovering from an appendectomy, will play today without two starting offensive linemen and his top running back.

“You could see him progress throughout last season,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. “Early on he was trying to catch hold and fighting for that quarterback spot. Once he knew he was the guy you saw him take off.”

Owens said he hasn’t watched his counterpart much on film, directing his time instead on Florida’s impressive defense. Owens also hasn’t kept tabs on the Padres, and who can blame him? San Diego entered Friday 13 games below .500 and 18 games out of the lead in the National League West.

With a strong senior season Owens might be able to avoid joining that mess.

“My priority is seeing how far I can go with football,” he said. “I’ve been playing my whole life, and I don’t want to stop now. But it’s possible.”

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.