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Top quarterback recruit aims to stay grounded in Christ

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Living with acclaim and accolades could overwhelm an 18-year-old recruited by the nation’s top college football teams and featured in an ESPN documentary. His decision to commit to the University of Florida created a media frenzy across the state and beyond.

But when Tim Tebow was asked to recount the record-setting statistics of his high school career, the Florida High School Player of the Year said he could not.

“I’m sure someone kept the stats, but I haven’t kept track,” Tebow, a member of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, said.

Nor does he surf the Internet, where dozens of stories and scouting reports have been written about the talented young athlete. Instead, the dual-threat quarterback for St. Augustine’s Nease High School has been taught that honoring God is more important than athletic accomplishments.

Perhaps nothing demonstrated his athletic prowess more than leading the Nease team in the Class 4A state championship game against two-time defending champion Seffner’s Armwood High School. Tebow passed for 237 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 183 yards and two more touchdowns to win state honors. When the coach needed another defensive player, the 6’3” 217-pound quarterback and former defensive end stepped in.

That performance capped off a senior year during which Tebow, one of four finalists in Parade Magazine’s All-American High School Player of the Year honors, threw for 3,442 yards and 34 touchdowns and rushed for 1,045 yards and 21 touchdowns. His high school career set new state records — 9,940 yards passing, 13,050 yards total offense and 159 touchdowns that garnered the attention of college coaches nationwide and was the focus of an ESPN documentary that explored his home-schooled background.

Tebow recently enrolled as a freshman at the University of Florida, starting training the day he arrived on campus. In his high school studies, he carried a 3.5 grade point average and attained the college-required SAT score in the ninth grade.

As he enters the adulating world of college football, his parents believe they have prepared him for this new phase in life.

“We had to start when he was very young,” Pam Tebow said, with Scripture memorization and “emphasizing humility and character.”

“We kept telling him that he could not praise himself but wait for others to do it and that he couldn’t talk about himself,” she said.

They often quoted Proverbs 27:2, which says, “Let another man praise thee and not thine own mouth, a stranger and not thine own lips.”

Tebow’s parents also encouraged him to pick a hero who modeled similar traits of humility and modesty. Perhaps not surprisingly, he chose former Gator quarterback and Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel as that hero.

Tebow also was discouraged from reading his own press clippings. “It’s all a part of keeping him grounded,” his mother said.

His pastor, Jerry Vines, believes Tebow is up for his future challenges at the University of Florida.

“There is great pressure in college football,” Vines said. “I believe Tim Tebow has been spiritually prepared by his family to handle that pressure. Of course, the difficulties will be there. But I am confident he will maintain his Christian ideals in the college football arena and will lead many others to a personal faith in Jesus Christ.”

Knowing that college football will give him an even larger platform as a role model, Tebow has his own formula for staying true to his convictions.

“I have an awesome family and, with two brothers and two sisters, they never let me get cocky,” he said. “I also plan to have my quiet time every day. I try to stay humble and realize that just because you play football you’re no more important than anyone else.”

Each summer, Tebow returns to the Philippines, where he was born, to lead evangelistic crusades and minister in orphanages. Such a commitment reflects his parents’ 20 years’ service as missionaries in the Asian country.

Teaching their children to honor God played a consuming role in Pam and Bob Tebow’s decision to homeschool their five children, even before the concept was popular.

“If I could get my kids to the age of 25 and they know God and serve God and had character qualities that pleased God, then I knew God would be happy and I would be happy,” Bob Tebow said. “The only way I could do that was to do it myself, commit to God that this is my job. Traditional academics had to take a back seat to God’s Word and character building. You can be well-educated in the world’s eyes and still be a sorry person. You can graduate with degrees and have no character. Character defines who you are.”

Tebow’s older siblings are involved in ministries of their own.

Although the Tebows live in Duval County, Tebow participated in a neighboring St. John’s County high school’s athletic program as a home-schooled student after the Nease football coach was willing to give him an opportunity to play quarterback.

To qualify to play in the St. John’s County school district, the Tebows rented an apartment near the school and placed their family farm up for sale. Tebow studied in that apartment each day, beginning each morning with Bible study. The farm never sold.

“We would have sold our home if we needed to,” Pam Tebow said. “We were willing to make that sacrifice. We have made sacrifices for all of our children.”

The left hander’s gridiron feats were the subject of a nationally televised ESPN documentary titled “The Chosen One.” In the documentary that covered his senior year, as well as in other articles and stories, Tebow’s talent on the field is paralleled with his Christian faith off the field.

The documentary begins with Tebow’s father reading Proverbs 27:2 and explaining that the 18-year-old was named for the Apostle Paul’s young friend, Timothy, a name that means “honoring God.”

Throughout the one-hour program, Tebow is seen studying the Bible as part of his home-school curriculum and devotional reading. The football team is shown praying before and after practice.

“After spending a lot of time with Timmy and his family, when I thought about the elements of their life and saw how their faith leads them from start to finish, I made the decision that it must be heavily based on their faith and beliefs,” ESPN producer Ken Murrah said in a telephone interview.

After almost a year filming Tebow’s senior season in different settings, Murrah said, “I knew he was a good football player in his strength, size and unique skills, but I was amazed at his natural ability and maturity to speak publicly, go into schools, be comfortable in being a role model and talk so openly about his faith.”

The Tebows agreed to do the documentary only if “in the natural course of events it showed our faith in Jesus as it is,” Bob Tebow said, adding that “we were not looking for a platform to preach. While football was the vehicle, our whole point in life is to honor the Lord.”

“I believe the witness of that documentary will have an impact all over the nation,” Vines said. “I have said publicly that every youth group and every high school football team in the nation should see that documentary.”
For information on ordering a DVD copy of the ESPN documentary, send an e-mail request to [email protected]. Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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