Sunday’s contest is the kind of game Tebow relishes. He responds to pressure. He won two national championships at Florida. Five of his seven victories this season were come-from-behind wins.
“I love playing in big games,” he said.
Regardless, it will be another chance for Tebow to step on the big stage and showcase not just his football skills, but himself. He knew from a young age his calling wasn’t to simply throw a ball.
“It’s unfortunate so many people think, ‘Oh, because I score touchdowns or play this game, I’m doing something important,’ ” Tebow said. “No, I’m playing a game. But I think what you can do with that platform can be very important. Hopefully that’s something that I take advantage of, the platform that football has given me to make a difference.”
The doubters were always there. In fact, many of those who now count themselves as Tebow’s most devout believers didn’t necessarily start that way.
Tebow transferred to Nease High in Ponte Vedra, Fla., after his freshman year. His previous school played him at linebacker, but he wanted to be a quarterback. Nease had a new coach who didn’t know what to do with his new player, who was bigger and stronger than any lineman. They broke from their first spring practice and the coaches went indoors to chat.
“Two and a half hours passed and when I came out, it was getting dark,” said Craig Howard, Tebow’s high school coach. “It was misty, raining, and someone was still out there on the practice field.”
Tebow was throwing a variety of routes, tossing a ball, walking to pick it up and throwing it again. Over and over.
“I told our coaches, ‘This is the hardest working kid I’ve ever seen in my life. We’re going to have a heck of a team next year,” said Howard, now the coach at Southern Oregon University.
Tebow helped Nease win a state championship and was one of the hottest recruits Florida had seen, with 70-some scholarship offers. By the time Meyer took the Gators’ coaching job in 2005, no one had to brief him on Tebow.
“It was being jammed down my throat from the minute I stepped on the runway and arrived in Gainesville,” he said. “I was probably like the rest of the country.I watched some videotape, I had some concerns. I wanted to be a skeptic. No way this kid is all these things, give me a break with the missionary work. So I was a lot like a lot of people. I actually didn’t want to like him.”