Revisiting the Owls’ eight-month long quarterback battle between Daniel Parr and Jason Driskel

The two competed for the opportunity to replace three-year starter Jaquez Johnson.

Redshirt+freshman+Daniel+Parr+rolls+out+to+his+right+while+looking+for+an+open+receiver+down+the+field+during+an+August+practice.+Ryan+Lynch+%7C+Editor+in+Chief

Redshirt freshman Daniel Parr rolls out to his right while looking for an open receiver down the field during an August practice. Ryan Lynch | Editor in Chief

Brendan Feeney, Sports Editor

Daniel Parr watched from the sidelines as Jason Driskel marched onto the field after starting quarterback Jaquez Johnson hobbled off in Florida Atlantic’s second game of 2015 against the University of Miami Hurricanes.

Prior to the season, Driskel, a redshirt freshman, and Parr, a true freshman, practiced side by side, both fighting for the starting job alongside Johnson and Greg Hankerson. But by the time the season opener rolled around, Parr found himself redshirted.

While he and Driskel watched on from the sidelines, Johnson carried the offense to 44 points in an overtime loss at Tulsa University.

The following week, Johnson’s injured right ankle forced him out of the Owls home opener against Miami. Head coach Charlie Partridge turned to the inexperienced Driskel.

Redshirt sophomore Jason Driskel runs off the practice field prior to being named the starter for the season opener. Ryan Lynch | Editor in Chief

Redshirt sophomore Jason Driskel runs off the practice field prior to being named the starter for the season opener. Ryan Lynch | Editor in Chief

The Oviedo, Florida native led FAU on a 10-play, 83-yard drive capped off by his first career touchdown, a 4-yard pass to then-sophomore tight end Nate Terry.

“Definitely not the way I pictured my first game in college,” Driskel said. “I was thinking everything was going to be rainbows after that.”

Driskel appeared in 10 games during the season. He threw three touchdowns, four interceptions and completed 51 percent of his throws, as Parr could only watch from the outside.

“I started three years in high school and not being able to play last year was a little rough at times, but I made sure to do my best to support the team wherever we were,” Parr said. “Coming into this year, now I’m ready to get out there and play and do what’s best for this team.”

Johnson finished his FAU career in the team’s final game in November, creating a vacancy for the starting quarterback job. Parr’s redshirt season was behind him.

While he stood on the sidelines all season, the year was not a lost one. The Jupiter-born quarterback said he benefitted from watching and studying with the other quarterbacks, including Johnson, a three-year starter.

“He has a lot of knowledge about the game,” Parr said. “The things he taught me being a first-year quarterback, I owe a lot to him.”

And so the competition for the starting position began.

Parr’s improvements from the previous summer evened the talent gap between him and Driskel, whom he compared his style to.

“We’re guys that can sit in the pocket and throw down field, but at the same time when things break down we can get outside and make plays with our legs and make throws on the run,” Parr said.

Partridge did note that Driskel held an early advantage thanks to his in-game experience.

On Dec. 11, Driskel lost the upper hand when Travis Trickett became the team’s new offensive coordinator.

His fast-paced, no-huddle offense — which led Samford University to the seventh most offensive yards per game among Football Championship Subdivision schools in 2015 — evaporated Driskel’s edge in running the offense.

He still held the leverage of in-game experience, but it turned out that Parr had a trump card of his own: familiarity with Trickett’s offense.

Thanks to running what he called, “a pretty similar system” to Trickett’s during his junior high season, he guided William T. Dwyer High School to a state title. The following year, Parr garnered the Class 7A Player of the Year Award.

“I’m used to this type of offense: spread offense, up tempo [and] no huddle,” he said.

The first major string of battles, which took place during spring practices, concluded in April’s annual spring game.

Unlike the typical spring game, where the starting quarterbacks are placed on opposing sides, Driskel and Parr did not go head to head.

Instead, to even the playing field between the two as close as possible, Partridge placed both quarterbacks on the same team. They swapped on- field duties every drive.

Driskel completed 20-of-27 passes, threw two touchdowns and one interception. Parr converted on 9-of-12 throws and scored three touchdowns — two through the air and one on the ground.

“They both showed signs of good things today and I am excited about that progress,” Partridge said after the game. The coach also mentioned that the two were still neck and neck.

Trickett, whom Parr described as a “really intense guy,” made sure to keep them next to each other throughout the summer. He would have his two quarterbacks participate in every play, even if they weren’t running the offense at the time, according to FAU Athletics.

One quarterback received the snap with the other just a few yards behind, Athletics said. Both would drop back and the one without the ball mimicked the player in live action — whether that meant going through a throwing motion or a hand-off motion.

“There is no incumbent. There is competition every day, every drill,” Partridge said to Parr and Driskel. “Travis will not allow them to stand back there. They have to simulate the throw, so that Travis can coach both quarterbacks on every rep.”

Being so close together had an effect on their off- field relationship as well as their on-field success.

Besides practicing alongside each other, the two said they watch game films, go out to the movies and have dinner together.

“During camp we’re here hours and hours and hours every day so we’re together literally all day so you can’t not be friends with guys that you’re around for two and a half weeks straight,” Driskel said. “That brings people pretty close together … We’re just a bunch of college guys hanging out.”

Parr said he believes the competition has made the two closer.

“There’s no animosity whatsoever,” he said. “We’re in there each day competing against each other but at the same time with each other … We like to make fun of each other and crack jokes and stuff like that, but when we’re out on the field we’re all serious and locked in.”

On the field is where the two feel the biggest and most important effect from the competition.

According to Parr, because they are running the same offense, they are able to learn from the other’s mistakes while also being able to support and teach each other at the same time.

“Competition brings out the best in everyone so obviously when you’re competing with someone directly for a role on a team, it’s going to bring out the best in both people,” Driskel said. “I think that’s the goal.”

FAU’s young and upcoming defense, which is headlined by Conference USA’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and Butkus Award watch-list member, senior defensive end Trey Hendrickson, is also helping the two improve.

The defensive end is joined by three sophomores — Ocie Rose, Azeez Al-Shaair and Jalen Young — all of whom received all-conference preseason honors after making the conference’s all-freshman team a season ago.

“[Playing against them] definitely makes us better,” Parr said. “It doesn’t make practice easy, but at the end of the day that’s what we need. Practice isn’t about doing everything the easy way. The hard way is what’s going to make us better. That’s what’s going to get us wins this season.”

The struggles that come against a defense like FAU’s can be easy to come by, which is why any impressive outing stays in the mind of the coaches.

“One day you think (Jason) Driskel’s got it. The next day (Daniel) Parr takes it,” Partridge wrote to FAU Athletics in June. “They are both operating as starters.”

Despite saying this, Partridge made no hints about whom the actual starter would be. Neither Parr nor Driskel wanted to try and gain a read on their coaches as to what their final decision would be.

“I think [looking for hints is] probably the worst thing you can do,” Driskel said. “They’re going to put you out in practice wherever they think you need to get reps and do whatever you need to do. So no matter if you’re running with the ones, twos, threes, you can’t look into that.”

Parr said he shared a similar view and focused on coming out every day to better himself.

By the time preseason practices rolled around in August, neither quarterback had distanced himself from the other.

Partridge said that the coaches weren’t leaning toward either quarterback during the team’s media day on Aug. 21. However, for the first time since the competition began, he announced a timetable of when he expected a decision to be made.

“[Trickett and I] have been having those discussions the entire way,” Partridge said. “We’ve been looking into the collective and we have a goal to get it done by mid to end of the week.”

Sure enough, the team released a statement through its website and social media two days later.

“I am proud of both quarterbacks and the entire football team for how they have handled the quarterback competition,” Partridge said. “The entire body of work from January until now has been taken into account to make the decision. As we approach game week, the recent performances were weighted more heavily.”

“We anticipate and expect both to continue to prepare and compete as if they were starting. Jason Driskel will be the starting quarterback versus Southern Illinois.”

The following morning, Partridge told the Sun Sentinel that Driskel was “a little more ready at this point.”

He also shut down the possibility of the quarterbacks splitting time, which Trickett’s offense featured at Samford a season ago.

But as Driskel showed last year, being the backup quarterback doesn’t end your chances of playing.

“The biggest thing [last year] showed me is that no matter where you are on the depth chart, you’re close to playing. Especially at quarterback,” Driskel said. “Football being a physical sport, you are one play away so you never know and you got to prepare like you’re starting whether you’re the starter or fifth string.”

Parr, who experienced deja vu from last season when he watched Driskel take the field from the sidelines, won’t let his role hold him down.

“You always got to keep your head up,” he said prior to the announcement. “There’s going to be ups and downs along the way. You can’t get too high, can’t get too low and you’re going to have your good days and you’re going to have your bad days. But at the end of the day you should always be confident in yourself and at the same time always make sure you’re prepared as much as possible.”

In the opening game, Driskel led the offense to 38 points in a victory over Southern Illinois on Sept. 3.

He finished the game with 287 passing yards and two touchdowns along with 54 rushing yards and a 2-yard run into the end zone in the fourth quarter.

“I think he had a nice first outing of the 2016 season,” Partridge said. “It’s good to see him do things with his legs as well as throw some nice balls with his arm.”

The battle came full circle on Sept. 10 when Driskel once again took the field against Miami in the team’s second game of the season as Parr watched on from the sidelines.

Brendan Feeney is the sports editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @feeney42.