CEDAR RAPIDS — In grief, Greg Purnell hoped everyone would learn the lesson he just did.
The hall of fame prep football coach from Linn-Mar found out Wednesday night that Ryan Driscoll, his star quarterback in the early 1990s, had died from an apparent heart attack at the age of 44.
Driscoll lived in Rockford, Ill., Purnell is from Dubuque but now lives in Wheaton, Ill., a Chicago suburb. You pass through Rockford to get from Wheaton to Dubuque and vice versa.
“I feel so bad,” Purnell said. “I was always going to find out where he lived, stop in and see him. But I lost his phone number. It’s one of those things that you always put off and never get done. This is a good (example) of why you should never put off stuff like that.”
Driscoll was a three-sport standout at Linn-Mar and won the 1992 Gazette Athlete of the Year award. He went on to play quarterback at the University of Iowa, graduating in 1996 and eventually settling in Rockford, where he worked in the medical sales field.
One of the best athletes to come out of the Metro area, Driscoll earned all-state honors in football and baseball. He also was a three-year starter in basketball and an all-Mississippi Valley Conference selection as a senior.
At Iowa, he played in 25 games over three seasons for Hayden Fry, completing 95 of 189 passes for 1,232 yards with four touchdowns and nine interceptions.
As a prep athlete, he had few peers. Driscoll threw for 3,654 yards and 29 touchdowns during his two-year varsity career, leading Linn-Mar to a 20-3 record and the Class 4A state championship in his junior season (1990).
He was listed as one of the top five drop-back passers in the country by The Sporting News, was a high school all-American by Street & Smith’s and was named Gatorade’s Iowa Player of the Year.
“Ryan Driscoll, besides the skill and abilities that he had that were beyond any player I’d ever coached, had the ability to raise the level of play of kids around him,” Purnell said. “Kids loved him, his fellow teammates loved him. He had the neatest, charismatic smile that everyone rallied to. I just can’t say enough about him. He did so much for so many.”
In baseball, Driscoll batted .547 as a high school senior, was named MVC Player of the Year and was a first-team all-state selection.
Former Linn-Mar baseball coach Phil Katz elevated Driscoll to the varsity team when Driscoll was a freshman.
”As a person is how I want Ryan to be remembered,” said Katz, who said he had texted with Driscoll about a month ago. “God, they don’t get any better. Just humble, caring, loving, generally concerned about you.
“As an athlete, he was selfless, too. He had all the god-given skills, but the thing Ryan had was the ability to lead and the ability to relate to his teammates. His teammates would run through a wall for him. Ryan had ‘It,’ that’s what I would say. He had ‘It.’”
Driscoll said in a 1992 Gazette article sports always were a huge part of his life.
”I never had Star Trek toys or anything like that,” he said, adding with a laugh that “... I never had any interest in anything but sports — and girls.
“I always played with older kids, and I think that helped make me better.”
Driscoll is survived by a wife and two daughters.