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Gators’ QB: ‘God, family, academics & …’

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Holding the most high-profile position on the defending national championship team — making him the biggest Big Man on Campus at a football-crazed school — could easily go to the head of any college sophomore, but Tim Tebow says that football is not even the third most important thing in his life.

“I am fortunate to have family members, coaches and teammates around who can help me stay focused on the right things for us to be successful. For me, every day includes four things: God, family, academics and football, in that order,” Tebow told the Florida Baptist Witness.

In a sign of the media scrutiny and time pressure his schedule is under, Florida Sports Information staffer Zack Higbee told the Witness there were hundreds of interview requests for Tebow as the Gators prepare to defend their championship and it was impossible to grant every one of them. The university accommodated the Witness’s interview request by having questions to Tebow submitted in writing and receiving his written replies via Higbee.

Although Tebow was the back-up quarterback last year, even as a true freshman he saw significant duty in all 14 games, including the national championship game against Ohio State, allowing him to be the team’s second-leading rusher and first with eight rushing touchdowns.

In 2007, however, Tebow is the starting quarterback and undisputed leader of the Gators in their drive to match the school’s basketball team as back-to-back national champions.

For Tebow, the way to deal with the pressure that comes with the territory is to ignore most of what others say about him.

“I don’t really listen too much since it’s important to stay in the middle and not get too high or too low. Florida fans are passionate and that’s what makes them great. Being cheered or criticized is all part of sports and how everything goes in cycles,” Tebow said.

The other key in keeping balance in his life is his relationship with Christ.

Tebow grew up in a Christian family, led by missionary parents Bob and Pam Tebow. The Tebows are members of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville. He began his walk with Christ as a 6-year-old and has regularly traveled with his family during summers to the Philippines, where he was born, to lead evangelistic crusades and minister in orphanages.

Although his college commitments prevented him from going to the Philippines this summer, Tebow told the Witness the experiences of ministering there remain with him — and is something he will pursue in the future because “it is a valuable part of my life.”

Reflecting on the people he has ministered to, Tebow said, “Meeting all of those different people who have nothing and are poor gave me an appreciation for what me and my family have and provided me with the perspective of taking nothing for granted. It also allowed me to see the effect that I could have on those people. For some, the belief in Christ is all that they have and is much more important than money or material possessions.”

Majoring in family, youth and community sciences, Tebow said he is “trying to take advantage” of the educational opportunity he has at the University of Florida — the alma mater of his parents.

Although his parents have counted Florida-Georgia as the school’s biggest rivalry, Tebow relishes the game against the Florida State Seminoles since the game often played a pivotal role in the national championship aspirations of both schools during the time he grew up as a Gator fan. It’s no surprise, then, that former Gator quarterback and 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel is Tebow’s role model, both on and off the field.

“I saw how he treated people and learned to treat everyone how I wanted to be treated,” Tebow said. “He was such a positive role model both on the field, academically and spiritually and would always make time for people by signing autographs, taking pictures with them ….”

Today, Wuerffel, who quarterbacked NFL’s Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints, leads Desire Street Ministries in New Orleans, which seeks to rebuild impoverished neighborhoods through spiritual and community development.

For Tebow, staying spiritually grounded includes leading a Bible study in his apartment on Sunday nights. Attended mostly by fellow football players, Tebow said the athletes “spend time talking about the Lord.”

Although Mac Brunson, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, has not known Tebow very long, he is impressed with the joy and humility that marks the young man.

“I really think that he has a heart full of joy,” Brunson told the Witness. “He’s always smiling. He always seems to be upbeat.”

Brunson said Tebow spoke at the church’s annual pastors’ conference last year and impressed evangelist Junior Hill who told Brunson it was “the best testimony I have ever heard from an athlete.”

Tebow’s commitment to the church was illustrated in July when he played Goliath opposite a 6-year-old boy as David in the church’s children’s musical. “I think he just got a kick out of doing that with those children,” Brunson said.

“When I think of Tim, I think of a young man who is incredibly talented, who is sharp academically and is deep spiritually and is humble in all of it,” Brunson added.

Asked by the Witness how Christians can pray for him, Tebow said that although it would be “great” if people prayed for him, “there are many other things in the world to focus upon today, especially in their own families.”

Tebow added, “I am no different than anyone else in the room, despite what people may think, because I am a Gator football player. It is important for each person to sit down and be honest about making priorities and being true to themselves.”
James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper, online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

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