August/September 2009 Born to Lead Tim Tebow Tom Rogeberg University of Florida
Every week, it seems like a new moral or ethical shortcoming tarnishes the reputation of yet another sports superstar. There's no need to name names or the charges. Enough ink has already been used reporting the allegations.
For better or worse, sports today provide one of the most visible platforms for modeling behavior. Yet, not everyone who stands on the pedestal wants the responsibility that comes with it. Some athletes even recoil at the idea of being a role model.
Tim Tebow — #15
|Birthdate: Aug. 14, 1987|
Birthplace: Manila, Philippines
Height/Weight: 6-3/245 lbs.
Major: Family, Youth and Community Sciences
Trivia: Only player in NCAA history to rush and pass for at least 20 touchdowns in a single season.
• 2-time BCS National Champion (2007, 2009)
• 2007 Heisman Trophy winner (first sophomore winner)
• 2-time Maxwell Award winner (2007, 2008)
• 2007 Davey O'Brien Award winner
• 2008 Sullivan Award winner
• 2-time All-American (2007, 2008)
• 2-time SEC Offensive Player of the Year (2007, 2008)
• 2008 SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year
• 2008 Disney Wide World of Sports Spirit Award
• 2008 Wuerffel Trophy
Still, there are others who give us hope. Men like University of Florida senior quarterback Tim Tebow, who welcomes and embraces the opportunity to make a positive impact.
"Because of the success our team has had, my platform at the University of Florida is really great," Tebow said. "I'm blessed with an opportunity to influence lives and help a lot of people."
Considering his talents on the gridiron, who wouldn't want to be like Tim Tebow? As the acknowledged leader of the defending national champion Florida Gators, a two-time All-American and scholar athlete of the year, Tebow has already been labeled one of the greatest college football players of all time. He won almost every award possible by the time he was 21, and will, just this month, turn 22.
The following is an excerpt from what could be the "Tim Tebow List of Honors":
• One Heisman Trophy.
• Two Maxwell Awards as the nation's top football player.
• One Davey O'Brien Award as the country's best quarterback.
• An ESPY naming him the best male college athlete.
• One James E. Sullivan Award as America's most outstanding amateur athlete in any sport.
• One ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American of the Year nod.
• Two Academic All-American first-team selections.
• Two character-based awards: The 2008 Disney Wide World of Sports Spirit Award and the same year's Wuerffel Trophy.
Based on the manner in which Tebow conducts himself, though, you'd think he'd never read his own résumé. He radiates humility and kindness — both offshoots of the faith in Christ he very publicly professes. Tebow recognizes that skills are a gift from the Lord and that he was given these achievements in order to help him share the truth of Christ.
"When people see the work ethic, determination and the passion that I have, they're going to ask, 'What drives you? What is that?'" Tebow said. "Well, the answer is my relationship with Jesus Christ. That's just what has always fueled me."
Even President Barack Obama recognized Tebow's faith when he singled him out during a Gator-honoring ceremony at the White House in May. Said the commander in chief: "Tim is an inspiration to so many — a guy whose true strength comes not from the gym, but from his faith."
Whether his audience is the president of the United States, the millions watching his games on TV, the hundreds of inmates he's personally addressed in prison courtyards or the orphans in the Philippines who hang on his every word, Tebow takes every opportunity to tell others about the joy and peace that comes from following Jesus Christ.
As evidenced by his growing reputation for writing Scripture references on his game-day eyeblack, Tebow has also mastered the art of non-verbal witnessing. For the BCS National Championship game on Jan. 8 against the Oklahoma Sooners (which the Gators won, 24-14), he chose to wear "John 3:16" under his eyes. Within 24 hours of the game, the reference was Googled 93 million times.
Tebow donates his time reaching out to others, including hospitalized children.
More than passing or rushing yards, this was a statistic Tebow savored. It meant he'd achieved his dream of deflecting his fame to his Savior. National championships are fantastic, but the Lord's renown is priceless.
The Philippines is a special place for the entire Tebow family. Tim's parents, Bob and Pam, moved there in 1985 with their then four children in order to become Christian missionaries. Today, the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association continues to minister in the Pacific nation of 92 million. They have a staff of 45 Filipino national evangelists, an orphanage, a boat ministry, and they work in conjunction with 2,000 churches.
The youngest Tebow — Tim — was born there in 1987. He and his siblings, after they each turned 15, began traveling back with Bob and a mission team every year to support the evangelistic work. During a 2008 trip, Tim spoke to almost 7,000 citizens in different locations, and, of those, more than 5,000 indicated that they'd made decisions for Christ.
Ironically, all of Tim Tebow's ministry opportunities and football achievements — even his very life — almost never happened.
While living in the Philippines in the mid-80s, Bob Tebow — passionate about the preservation of human life — grieved over the number of abortions in America. He began to pray, "Lord, if you give us another son, I'll raise him to be a preacher." He even prayed by name for "Timmy" — from "Timothy," which means "honoring God."
In time, Pam conceived another child. But, due to any number of still-unknown factors, complications surfaced in the pregnancy.
This May, more than 12 years after Tim Tebow's hero, Danny Wuerffel, won the Heisman Trophy as the University of Florida quarterback, and two seasons after his own, a crowd of 6,200 gathered at the Northeast Florida FCA's Night of Champions to watch both Gator legends take the same stage and proclaim the same faith.
Above: Team Tebow – Top row from left to right: Robby, Tim, Peter and Bob Tebow. Bottom row: Gannon Shepherd, Katie Tebow Shepherd, baby Abby Shepherd, Pam Tebow, Christy Tebow Allen, Joey Allen and baby Claire Allen. (Newest baby, Joey Allen IV, not pictured.)
Below: Bob, Pam and Tim Tebow talk with Herbstreit about family legacy.
Many events highlighted the night. ABC and ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit interviewed Wuerffel, Tebow and their parents about building a family legacy. Christian comedian and longtime FCA favorite Kenn Kington served as master of ceremonies, and platinum-selling recording artist Richie McDonald, formerly of the group Lonestar, provided inspirational music.
While many attended simply to hear words of wisdom from a current college football superstar, the crowd witnessed more than the single testimony from a hero. They experienced the grace of God through the entire Tebow family — a group we like to call "Team Tebow."
The idea for a big-arena event came from Robby Tebow, the oldest Tebow son and former FCA area representative in northeast Florida. Bob Tebow, who was on FCA staff from 1976-79, and Pam, whose strong pro-life stance has led to numerous speaking invitations, also chatted on stage with Herbstreit before Bob gave the closing invitation to receive Christ.
One of the two family daughters, Katie Tebow Shepherd, and middle brother, Peter Tebow, both attended the event in support. And, had she and her family not been serving in overseas missions, Christy Tebow Allen would have joined in as well.
While the event was a powerful witness to the Florida community, it was just one of the many ministry opportunities that continue to come the way of Team Tebow throughout the year. All members of the family have been active in various ministries, which, according to Pam, is a credit to Bob, who gave them each an "eternal perspective" and built their lives around things of spiritual worth.
Bob's secret to instilling such values? Reading the Word of God to his family, teaching them to trust in the Lord's plan for their lives and going on mission trips — all things he considers of "ultimate value."
Concerned for Pam's life, her doctor urged her to abort the child. The baby was thought to be nothing more than a mass of fetal tissue, and carrying it to term put Pam at risk. But Pam and Bob refused the doctor's counsel and trusted God for their son's life. She spent months of her pregnancy confined to a bed and, more than once, nearly lost the baby.
But on Aug. 14, 1987, against the odds, Timmy was born — healthy, but very skinny. And, now, that early thin stature has become another reason the Tebows consider the quarterback's current 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame a sign of God's hand at work and a testament to the power of prayer.
There was much rejoicing in Gator Nation when Tebow chose to attend the University of Florida. As heavily as he was recruited elsewhere, his choice came as no surprise. Bob and Pam had met on Florida's campus, and the Tebow family had relocated to the state when Tim was three.
As a child, Tebow was a die-hard Gator. His bedroom wallpaper and bedspread were covered with blue and orange. Pam urged him to emulate Gator quarterback Danny Wuerffel, another national champion and Heisman Trophy winner, as his sports hero because of his faith-driven conduct.
"I looked up to him, not really for how he played on the field, but for how he handled himself off of it," said Tebow, who, through the influence of his Christian parents, understood that sports were meant to honor God. "Danny set a great example for a 6-year-old boy. He was someone who was humble and who could handle victory and defeat."
Now, after two national titles of his own, the divine nature of the Tim Tebow story is developing into one that will be told for decades.
It started in 2006, when, even as a backup to quarterback Chris Leak, Tebow led the Gators in rushing touchdowns and helped them to their first national championship since 1996. As a starter in 2007, Tebow became the first player in college football history to record more than 20 passing and 20 rushing touchdowns, including two with a broken right hand in a game against Florida State. His performance that season made him the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman Trophy.
At the Heisman ceremony that year, with his right hand in a cast, Tebow picked up his trophy and began his acceptance speech: "I'd like to start off by thanking my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave me the ability to play football and gave me a great family and great coaches..."
In a video profile shown at the ceremony, Tebow described his priorities in life:
1. His faith in God.
2. His family.
It wasn't the typical Heisman speech.
When the 2008 season began, Tebow and the strong team of Gators had high hopes of going undefeated. Those plans were short-lived, however, as unranked Ole Miss stunned Florida in a 31-30 upset in September. Call it the silver lining to a crushing defeat, but the loss proved to be a pivotal point in Tebow's career.
"He began to pray, 'Lord, if you give us another son, I'll raise him to be a preacher.'"
In a postgame press conference, he gave an emotional pledge to all Florida fans that he and the Gators would work harder than anyone else in the nation thereafter.
Tebow was held accountable to that promise as his speech was replayed thousands of times on national television and over the Internet.
And he didn't disappoint. From September to January, Tebow and the Gators reaped the fruit of their hard work by steamrolling through the rest of the season, upending No.1-ranked Alabama for the SEC Championship and then toppling top-ranked Oklahoma for the BCS title.
Tebow's passion for the game has been well-documented with frequent shots of him on the sidelines — his helmet off, shouting encouragement to his defense; his uniform usually stained by a mixture of dirt and grass.
Pam, however, sees a different side of her son. She describes him as "kind" in the sense that is demonstrated when Tebow visits hospitalized children.
Amidst his demanding academic and football schedules, which are laced with outreach events and volunteer opportunities, Tebow prioritizes and protects his time with the Lord. It's the only way he is able to maintain that kind heart. He keeps a daily quiet time, leads a weekly Bible study and participates in FCA events when his schedule allows.
"My family has always been heavily involved with FCA, starting with my dad and now, with my brother," Tebow said, referencing his older brother Robby, who formerly served as FCA's area representative in northeast Florida. "Growing up, FCA also gave me a platform and a place to invite people. Guys would be more inclined to want to come because it was FCA. 'Athletes are going to be there, so it's going to be cool.' Still, to this day, guys might not come to church with me, but they'll come to FCA."
"I want to be renewed by
the Spirit and go out there every day constantly filled with Him."
As Tim Tebow begins his senior season and attempts to help the Gators win another national championship, he finds himself standing in the same intense spotlight. Now under the direction of a new quarterbacks coach, Tebow is learning how to develop as a drop-back passer. It's a technique that will help prepare him for the NFL — a place that could provide his next ministry opportunity.
"I just look at it as a different mission field than most missionaries," he said. "I'm working hard to, one day, play quarterback in the NFL because that is something I want to do. And I want to be involved with as many things as I can because my heart is for the lost and the needy."
With his platform now at an unimaginable high and a virtually spotless reputation, Tebow knows that he has a target on his back. Thus, when asked how men and women across the country could pray for him this season, he responded with a simple request: "I'd be grateful if you prayed for me to stay strong with Jesus Christ and my relationship with Him, and that I'd use the platform God has given me with football to influence the people that look up to me. I want to be renewed by the Spirit and go out there every day constantly filled with Him."
With all that Tebow does to represent the Kingdom and share the love of Christ, we can surely handle that.
Q&A with Tim Tebow
|FCA's Tom Rogeberg: You are one of the busiest college students in America, but, whenever we see you on TV, there's a smile on your face. Where does that joy come from?|
Tim Tebow: Well, I have a lot to be grateful for, and I'm extremely blessed. I have a relationship with Jesus Christ, which is the most important thing. It's why we have hope for tomorrow. That's a lot to be thankful for, and it's a good reason to smile.
TR: After winning so many awards already, why did you return for your senior year?
"None of us are strong enough to face all the temptations around us," Tebow says, "but, with His help, we can have that strength to influence people and not be influenced."
TT: Well, when my parents, Coach (Urban) Meyer and I sat down to talk about it, we realized that it really came down to several things. Most people would have chosen to go, but I wanted to be different. I wanted to be loyal to the University of Florida and finish what I started. And I wanted to be loyal to Coach Meyer, to my teammates and to all the Gator fans for their support.
Also, my platform is really great at the University of Florida through being a quarterback there and through the success of our team. I'm blessed with a great opportunity to influence a lot of lives and help a lot of people.
TR: You've chosen to honor Christ by putting both Philippians 4:13 and John 3:16 on your eye-black. Are those your favorite Bible verses?
TT: They are. They've really always been my two favorites. I thought Philippians 4:13 was more applicable and that people might be able to understand it better when they read it, so, I put that one under my eyes for the whole season. Then, for the national championship game, I just felt called to put John 3:16 under my eyes because, when people looked up that verse, they'd see the essence of the gospel and how they could have salvation. And I really prayed that a lot of people would see that and come to know Christ.
TR: There were reports that John 3:16 was Googled 93 million times after the national championship game. It's safe to say that the response was fueled by your eye-black reference. Was that influence one of the deciding factors in your choice to return?
TT: Yeah. We saw that impact, and I said, "Why leave this? You have a great thing going here. I want to stay here one more year." That was an amazing thing and something that I didn't know was going to happen.
TR: After the Gators' lone loss in 2008, you promised that your team would be the hardest-working team in the nation and that you would be the hardest-working player. How did Christ factor into your work ethic and leadership last season?
TT: He's in everything that I do; especially in that. Because, not only am I playing for Coach Meyer, the University of Florida, my family and my team, I'm also playing for Jesus Christ. And everything you do, you are to do wholeheartedly unto the Lord.
Hopefully people can see something different about me, and they know what it is. They know that it's not just a different technique or a different coach or that I'm at the University of Florida, but that it's my relationship with Christ.
TR: You've become so famous that it seems like everyone now wants a piece of you. What do you do to find authentic friendships, and how do you keep your balance and your focus on the Lord?
TT: That can be really tough. I want to please everybody and be friends with everybody, but it's hard. You can't always do that. So, I really pray about it a lot and try to have as kind of a heart toward everybody as I can.
Eventually you have to say "no" because you can't do everything, and those are the hardest things. So, I really try to prioritize everything in my life so that I'm doing what I feel are the most important things.
TR: In your time speaking with and ministering to prisoners and orphans, what have you learned about the world?
TT: That it's a very needy place. There are a lot of people out there who need hope and a reason for tomorrow. I'm so blessed because I have that. I have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and I know where my tomorrow is. I don't know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future. There is hope, and there's a reason to share that with people.
TR: This year's FCA Camp theme was "Inside Out," which was from Romans 12:2: "Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..." What does that verse speak to you?
TT: It says a lot about having a relationship with Jesus Christ and how you don't have to be influenced by your surroundings. You can influence your surroundings with His help. None of us are strong enough to face all the temptations around us, but, with His help, we can have that strength to influence people and not be influenced. And that's an extremely powerful thing.
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy of UF Communications; Bob Tebow; Deanna Clement.