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Florida Gators' Tim Tebow grips religion as firmly as a football

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow’s eye-black patches remind him: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow’s eye-black patches remind him: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Tim Tebow had watched and admired Texas quarterback Colt McCoy from afar for quite some time, so when the two finally met last month, Tebow was excited about the opportunity. But their first conversation wasn't about which country music star each has on his iPod (although that came later) or who plays on the better team. It was about God and the profound faith each publicly professes on a regular basis. "No. 1 what I like about him is his strength to show his faith and not be ashamed of that," Tebow said. "We're very similar in that way. And I wanted to compliment him on his beliefs and how he's not ashamed to show it."

A few days after that awards show at Lake Buena Vista, Tebow, McCoy and Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford were getting ready to step into the auditorium at the Nokia Theatre in New York before the Heisman Trophy ceremony began. McCoy and Bradford were nervous. They hadn't been there before. Tebow, who won the Heisman last season, calmed them both by telling them to enjoy the moment. And if they should win, he reminded them, remember to give thanks to who deserved most of the credit.

"I just said give credit to God and represent for him," the Florida quarterback said. "I really tried to (stress) that the whole time. I talked to them two or three times about it."

And so when Bradford stepped onto the stage to accept his Heisman, one of the first things out of his mouth was giving thanks to God.

For Tebow, the son of Christian missionaries whose father, Bob, runs an orphanage in the Philippines, in good times and bad, no matter where he is or whom he meets, his faith is what guides the way. After the September loss to Ole Miss, Tebow gave the now-famous postgame speech to reporters in which he promised that he and the Gators would outwork every other player and team in the nation.

He ended it in much the same way he does many of his interviews — with "God bless."

"Tim understands, we're here for a reason," said McCoy, the Heisman runnerup. "God has blessed us. He has given us the ability to play, to compete. And we just want to be a light for him out there."

Holding firm to faith

On the September day the Gators walked off in agony after their loss to then-unranked Ole Miss, all eyes were on Tebow. It was he who had been stopped on a crucial fourth and 1 that ended the comeback hopes.

As he walked off the field, underneath his teary eyes, painted in white on his eye-black patches, was: Phil 4:13.

The Philippians 4:13 verse reads: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

He wears it in every game. It is, in essence, a guideline for his life.

"He doesn't do it for show or for people to talk about," sophomore offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey said. "It's just a way to show what he's about, what he believes, how he lives. It's really that simple."

After that loss, Tebow reminded his teammates that everything happens for a reason. God has planned it that way. Their goal was to find the good in the loss and turn it to their advantage.

Again, his faith never wavered.

"It's who he is," senior receiver Louis Murphy said. "You don't question that. You respect it."

Which is why Tebow can walk the very fine line of always publicly professing his faith, yet somehow never offending.

"He doesn't fear anything," UF coach Urban Meyer said. "A lot of people take their heart out, rip it out of their chest and lay it on the table. I'm not willing to do that, and certainly not my family. But Bob (his father) is that way, and Pam (his mother) and their whole family. They have such a strong faith. In this world of hypocrisy, there's none (with them)."

Meyer admits he had heard about Tebow's strong beliefs, and when he first met him, he was skeptical.

"I was like okay, come on, the Philippines, c'mon give me the real gig here," Meyer said. "You want a hat? What's the deal? But it's true. It's all from the heart. I love that guy. I've never met one like him."

Tebow understands that being the starting quarterback at Florida has given him a platform to tell others about his faith in a unique way. His high profile is what got him into Florida state prisons last summer to talk about Jesus. Talk of his faith is what caused a large group of men to convert.

"For me, I just want to be a good role model, like (former UF quarterback) Danny Wuerffel was for me and several other guys that I looked up to," Tebow said. "I want to be someone that kids can look up to in today's society."

In this era, church attendance in many places has waned. Why has Tebow been able to stand out with his faith without opposition?

"I really think a lot of it is because he's just a good person," said Matt Hayes, national college writer for the Sporting News. "There's so much negative about sports in general these days: from off-field issues, to coaches breaking contracts, to the daily police blotter report. Here you have a guy like Tebow who not only is one of the elite players in the nation, but is genuinely someone who looks for the good in people and wants to help. That's not to say there aren't other players who don't think/feel/act the same way, but Tebow's success on the field has put him in position to be recognized for what he accomplishes off it."

And it's not something Tebow takes lightly.

Just a regular guy

So how does a star player who is so grounded in his faith manage to remain the most popular guy on the team, never isolating himself from others?

By being just one of the guys.

In his rare off-time, Tebow isn't standing on a corner waving a Bible and a sign condemning nonbelievers to hell. But he is working prison ministries, traveling to foreign countries to give his testimony and volunteering for those less fortunate. He holds Bible studies and participates in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Former roommate Tony Joiner often participated in the Bible study, which he admitted even surprised him. Tebow listens to Kenny Chesney and tells jokes like everyone else.

"He's just a regular guy," receiver Percy Harvin said. "To us, that (his religion) is just Tebow. That's who he is, so it doesn't seem unusual. And everybody understands that."

Added Murphy: "I can't explain it any better than this: He's a great God man, and everything falls in line for him because of the way he lives."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

Who's No. 1?

When/where: 8 p.m. Thursday;

Dolphin Stadium, Miami

TV: Ch. 13 Tickets: Sold out

Line: Florida by 3.

Inside: Unless he has setback, UF's Percy Harvin is expected to play. 6C

Friday's results

Sugar Bowl

No. 7 Utah31

No. 4 Alabama17

COTTON Bowl

No. 20 Mississippi 47

No. 8 Texas Tech 34

LIBERTY Bowl

Kentucky 25

East Carolina 19

Fast Facts

BCS title game appearances

Oklahoma (3) — 2000 season, beat FSU 13-2 in the Orange Bowl; 2003, lost to LSU 21-14 in the Sugar Bowl; 2004, lost to Southern California 55-19 in the Orange Bowl. Florida (1) — 2006, beat Ohio State 41-14 in the national championship game in Glendale, Ariz.

Florida Gators' Tim Tebow grips religion as firmly as a football 01/02/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 3:02pm]

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