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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.
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Not surprisingly, a leader
Those who know Tebow tout him for Heisman because he will not.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
Published December 2, 2007
As a toddler living in the Philippines, Tim Tebow often occupied himself in a sandbox while his parents worked at the family's orphanage.
After a while, Bob and Pam Tebow couldn't help but notice something interesting. No matter where they placed that sandbox, the other children would flock to be near their son. Wherever he was, that's where the others wanted to be.
Before he ever threw his first football, Florida's sophomore quarterback had a unique gift for getting people to follow his lead, to want to be where he was.
By the time he enrolled at Florida in January 2006, he was a high school state champion and already a household name among Gators fans. As the extremely popular backup quarterback last season, he received as much attention as any Gators starter.
So as the Gators prepared to open the 2007 season, it was no surprise Tebow was the cover boy on multiple preseason magazines and on everybody's player-to-watch list.
What has been a surprise is the record-breaking season the 20-year-old has produced, one even his teammates admit they didn't see coming.
"Me and Bubba receiver Andre Caldwell were talking about it a couple of weeks ago," said senior safety Tony Joiner, Tebow's roommate. "We really didn't know Tebow was going to be as good as he was. It was his first year starting. We thought he was going to have to break himself in. But he came in gunslinging like he's been doing it a couple of years."
Tebow eclipsed the school-record for total offense in a season with 3,970 yards, previously held by Rex Grossman (3,904 in 2001). He is the only player in NCAA history to rush for 20 or more touchdowns and pass for 20 or more touchdowns in a single season (22 and 29, respectively). And he finished the regular season as the all-time SEC single-season rushing touchdown leader.
This week, Tebow is expected to be among the finalists for the coveted Heisman Trophy and has a chance to become just the third Florida player to win - and the first-ever sophomore. He insisted all season he would rather play for an SEC and national championship. But with those goals out of reach, Tebow reluctantly acknowledged this week he's thrilled to have his name mentioned in the same sentence as the Heisman.
"It's a huge award and I'm honored to be a candidate," he said Thursday. "And to be talked about and have an opportunity to win, it's a big deal. I'm thankful for the opportunity. It's a dream come true. When I was young, everybody dreams about awards like that."
After rushing for 469 yards on 89 carries last season in a backup role, there was no doubt Tebow could run. But the biggest question surrounding him entering the season was "Can he throw?"
Tebow is second in Division I-A in passing efficiency (177.9) and was 217-for-317 for 3,132 yards with just six interceptions.
"I think everybody is surprised how well he threw the ball this year," Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said. "You knew he could throw; he's got a very strong arm. But his accuracy - to complete over 65 percent of his passes and be second in the nation in passing efficiency - that takes some skill throwing the football. And I think that's where he really surprised everybody this year."
Still just Tim
As the attention and talk of the Heisman heightened last week, Tebow was as even-keeled as the day he started fall practice in August. He signed autographs after practice, joked with teammates who constantly rib him about all the attention, and talked of landmarks in New York he hopes to see if he's invited.
But in his mind, Tebow remains just another football player who needs to get ready for a bowl game. He didn't spend the week searching for the perfect suit (although he admits he'll need a new one to fit over the cast he's wearing on his broken right hand). Instead, he watched film.
"He came in to watch some extra film (Wednesday), and we sat down and I put on the three games that we lost," Mullen said. "That's where our biggest concern was, what happened in those games, what we can improve. A lot of times guys will buzz through because they want to watch all the positives. We're sitting down trying to find areas out there and see some things we can improve on before the bowl game."
According to his coaches and teammates, Tebow, who also last week was named an Academic All-American, has refused to get caught up in all the Heisman talk.
When Caldwell tried to talk Tebow into striking the Heisman pose in the waning minutes of the Gators' win over Florida State, he wouldn't.
"Whenever you say anything about the Heisman, he's like, yeah, whatever," Caldwell said. "He just brushes it off like it's nothing to him. I hope if he wins it he'll show some more emotion."
His main goal through it all, Tebow said, is to remain humble and thankful.
"I've talked to lot of people, not just now, but throughout the season, about handling awards or success in general and stuff like that," Tebow said. "I have a lot of wise people in my life that are helping me and contacting me and talking to me about stuff like that. It's nice to have a committee that helps me stay grounded and remember that this is just a blessing and be thankful for it. God blessed me with athletic ability and blessed us this season with having some success. So I'm just being thankful for it and realizing that just because you play football, you're not more important than other guys on this campus or anybody else for that matter."
A photo finish?
The race for the Heisman tightened as the season wound down and may be one of the closest in recent history. Arkansas running back Darren McFadden's phenomenal performance in a win over then-No. 1 LSU closed the gap on Tebow. Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel was also gaining in the race. And West Virginia's Pat White and Hawaii's Colt Brennan also had a chance to showcase themselves Saturday.
ESPN analyst Lee Corso said during Saturday's nationally televised College GameDay program that with the exception of Roger Staubach, "Tebow is the greatest run-pass quarterback that's ever played the game."
For several coaches of the Gators' SEC opponents, there's no question Tebow is in elite company.
Asked if he could think of another player like Tebow, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said: "Hmmm, ... No. I don't know if we could draw on anybody we've played like him in a while. There aren't very many of those guys around that are that big and strong and fast and can throw like that."
One of the Gators' three losses this season was to Georgia, but Bulldogs' coach Mark Richt said Tebow's ability to run and throw puts him in a class by himself.
"When you're unique, you get people interested in watching you because you're different," Richt said. "That's definitely a plus in a Heisman race."
Ultimately, even those who studied Tebow closely on film found him to be better than advertised in person.
"In my opinion, from being around him in the recruiting process, I think the thing that makes him really good is his intangibles, his toughness, his competitiveness," Florida State offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher said. "... He's a heck of a football player. He can run it, he can throw it, and those guys believe in him. ... My hat's off to him."
Florida coach Urban Meyer has been recently criticized for failing to publicly lobby for Tebow, as some other coaches have. Meyer admits he pushed for Alex Smith when he was at Utah, but he said at a place like Florida, where there's an abundance of publicity, he believes Tebow's performance should be enough. He also wants to give credit to the those around Tebow.
"I'm not a big individual award guy," Meyer said. "I think Tim's one of the better players in America, but I haven't watched all the other players. My opinion really doesn't matter, but if I had a first draft pick, I kind of like my guy."
Tebow said he's glad Meyer hasn't campaigned for him, adding the success of the offense wasn't just because of him.
"We had some good numbers, but a lot of people put up record-breaking numbers," he said. "Not just myself, but Percy (Harvin) and Bubba and different people. So it was a good team effort and a good offensive show for a lot of games this year."
His teammates, however, aren't shy about their endorsements.
"I would vote for him in a minute," defensive tackle Clint McMillan said. "He's had a great season. He's the best college football player in the country."
"There are some good players out there, but I don't think it's close," Caldwell said. "I think by far he's the best player in the country and the most productive. And he should win the Heisman."
"We're all pulling for him and praying for him, hoping that he'll win it," said Harvin, a sophomore receiver. "He had a great season and broke a lot of records, so he deserves it."
Mullen stopped short of saying Tebow should win, but said Tebow has clearly been the Gators' most valuable player.
"He's done everything that we've asked of him to do," Mullen said. "That's to come out, be a great leader, play as hard as he can every game, manage every game, and make plays when they are there to be made. And he did not miss a beat in one game all season I don't think. So from the start of the season to the finish, he's done everything we've asked him to do and he's been a major factor dominating a lot of games."