Even when Tebow committed to Florida, there was little orthodox about him. He was muscular and hypercompetitive. He’d been home-schooled his entire life and sounded nothing like most 17- and 18-year olds.
“I’ll be honest, I had some doubts even coming out of high school about how good he could he be,” said Dan Mullen, the Gators’ former offensive coordinator, who now coaches Mississippi State. “But he has that competitive drive. He wants to be great.”
Tebow helped the Gators win the national title his freshman year. He won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore and another national championship as a junior. As a senior he set five NCAA records, 14 SEC records and 28 school records.
His legend took off his junior season when, after the Gators’ only loss, Tebow issued a promise: “You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of this season.”
“I was so angry,” Meyer said. “I kept thinking, why did you do that? Quit exposing yourself, exposing our team, showing your heart for people to throw daggers at. He doesn’t care. He’s not going to let one person, one bad article or 7,000 bad articles get in his way.
“He handles pressure like no one I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t care. He just wants to win.”
Football is not his calling
Tebow sat at his locker Friday, nibbling a protein-packed concoction cooked up by his nutritionist and talking about how important Sunday will be. But not just because the Steelers will be in town.
Before the game, he’ll meet with 16-year-old Bailey Knaub from nearby Loveland, Colo. She’s battling Wegener’s Granulomatosis, a disease that affects the vital organs, and has undergone six dozen surgeries. Bailey is the 13th “wish kid” Tebow has hosted at a game this season.
“It puts things in perspective because everything is, ‘Oh, how’s the pressure? You got to win, you got to do this,’ ” Tebow said. “You know, I’m playing a game, but this little girl has had 73 surgeries and she’s fighting for her life. That’s real perspective.”
And that’s why those who know him best say pressure from a game never rattles Tebow. Football is a job and a passion. But it isn’t necessarily his calling.
Tebow has been going on yearly mission trips to the Philippines since he was 15 years old. He talks in hospitals, schools, prisons. His foundation funds a ministry that supports 650 orphans. This offseason, he’ll again visit the Philippines, this time to break ground on a children’s hospital, a 30-bed surgical facility scheduled to open in 2013.
“My dad would always tell me when I was young, he’d say, ‘Timmy, one day, with your athletic ability, if God blesses you with that platform, what we do in the Philippines, you can do in America,’ ” Tebow said. “He was right.”