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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
When Nease quarterback Tim Tebow made that statement Tuesday afternoon in front of a packed high school auditorium and a nationally televised audience, the state's best quarterback gave Gator fans an early Christmas gift and broke the hearts of Alabama fans.
Including 6-year-old Noah Frost.
A personal family friend and staunch Alabama fan, Noah was certain his hero was going to announce a commitment to the Tide. When Tebow said "Florida," Noah was crushed.
He was the first person Tebow's mother, Pam, sought out after the news conference. She held Noah in her arms as he cried his heart out and told him it was "God's will" and that Timmy had made the best decision he could for himself.
"I knew I had to find him and comfort him," Pam Tebow said. "His family is close friends of ours and they are Alabama fans. Timmy is kind of Noah's hero. He came to every one of his home games. That's just an example of how hard this decision was.
"It was the hardest decision (Tim's) ever made. But we were all willing to go either way. We wanted what was right for him, and we weren't going to make the decision for him."
Even Tebow didn't know what was "right" until sometime Tuesday afternoon.
"We prayed about it all morning and I was truly agonizing over it," he said. "They were such great schools. It was a really tough decision, but I just felt comfortable with Florida and I think that's what made the decision."
A Florida fan since he was 5 years old, Tebow seemed destined to be a Gator. His parents, Pam and Bob, are Florida graduates and his brother is a junior at UF now. But after narrowing his choices to Michigan, LSU, Southern California, Alabama and Florida, Tebow developed a strong relationship with Tide coach Mike Shula, who spent about 12 hours at his home Monday. Even Tebow's parents weren't sure if he was choosing Alabama or Florida until he made the live announcement on ESPNEWS.
"I tried to go with my gut feeling and what I felt comfortable with," Tebow said.
Tebow is Urban Meyer's most heralded recruit in his short Florida tenure. He is considered the No. 12 prospect in the nation by Rivals.com, No. 2 in Florida. Rivals.com also calls Tebow the top-rated "dual-threat" quarterback in the country.
He led Nease to the Class 4A state championship last weekend and was 233-of-355 for 3,442 yards and 34 touchdowns this season. He also ran for 1,045 yards and 21 touchdowns. He has not yet decided whether he'll join the Gators in January; he's considering playing baseball for Nease in the spring.
NCAA rules will not allow a coach to talk about recruits until the official signing period in February, but Meyer said after Tuesday's practice that signing a quarterback was a serious priority for the Gators and he'll only sign one.
Tebow described Meyer as "very excited" when he called to tell him the decision about two minutes before he took the stage and prepared for his news conference.