Ron Higgins

Tebow’s biggest thrills have come from making a difference in the lives of those around him

by Ron Higgins November 30, 2009 in Football

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We all get caught up in who wins and who loses every week in college football. There’s controversial officiating, questionable coaching decisions and off-the-field problems that sometimes overshadow the sport.

Then, someone comes along like University of Florida senior quarterback Tim Tebow, who reminds us what athletics in general is supposed to be about.

It’s about competing as hard as possible, but at the end of the day, it’s the profound impact that a marquee athlete can have on a program and community when that athlete has the perspective of a Tim Tebow.

Tebow, raised in a house where his father is a missionary, finds reaching out to the sick, the poor, the hungry, the incarcerated, as natural as running off tackle.

“The opportunity that I’ve had to influence people through football and the memories I have being with kids and making them smile, at the end of the day, is more special than some of the games and some of the wins,” Tebow said. “Put aside all the glitz and glamour of winning. When I’m the Make-A-Wish for a kid, when that kid wants to talk to me before a game, that’s more special than anything.”

What Tebow has done as a player won’t be equaled anytime soon in the SEC and maybe in college football. He has two national championship rings, one as a starter, a Heisman Trophy and is 34-5 as a starting QB heading into this season’s SEC championship game.

It’s rare to find a college player more universally respected as a player and a person than Tebow. He’s a fierce competitor, yet a devout Christian who not only talks the gospel, but lives it as well performing missionary work everywhere from impoverished third-world countries, to prisons, to hospitals.

“I admire Tim for his ability to stand up and be who is, and not be ashamed of his faith and beliefs,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “You talk about how many people he affected in the league, but Tim has made an impact nationally and internationally. I’m proud of him.”

First-year coach Dan Mullen of Mississippi State, who was Tebow’s offensive coordinator for the first three years of Tebow’s Florida career, said he taught football to Tebow, but got just as much in return.

“One of the biggest things I learned from Tim is that if you have the ability to make a difference in someone’s life, it’s your obligation to that,” Mullen said. “That’s profound knowledge from a 20-year-old young man.”

Florida coach Urban Meyer almost was flagged for delay of game before Tebow’s last home game against Florida State. He hugged Tebow so long and so hard after Tebow’s Senior Day introduction, it appeared he would never let him go.

“So many times you see the athlete that gets a lot of recognition become someone he’s not,” Meyer said. “He starts getting surrounded by people that have self-destructive motives. You see it all the time with some great athletes and it rips your heart apart.

“But Tim Tebow has stayed Tim Tebow. The same people that were important to him when he was 18 years old and being recruited by Florida are still important to him now. He’s an even stronger person now than he was four years ago.”

That’s why it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Tebow returned for his senior year. He is a lifelong Gator fan who still has a signed football, cap, and a picture from a Florida fan day when he was a skinny grade school kid being flanked by Florida linemen Donnie Young and Jeff Mitchell.

Tebow loves that picture. It reminds him that dreams do come true, that he has played every college game with the spirit and fire and wonderment of the little kid he once was swept away by the sea of orange and blue on a Saturday afternoon in the Gators’ Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

“It was just the coolest thing to be a Gator fan when I was a kid, just to be able to cheer them on, hearing how loud The Swamp was, the singing and the chants, it was all so cool,” Tebow said. “It has been very special being a Gator.”