LAKE BUENA VISTA — The evening was meant to be a celebration of college football players and their athletic accomplishments, but Tim Tebow got his greatest joy Thursday night at the ESPNU College Football Awards for recognition of what he has done off the field.
The Florida junior quarterback repeated as the Maxwell Award winner for the nation's best all-around football player and joined Notre Dame's Johnny Lattner (1952, 1953) as the only two-time winners.
But it was the Disney Spirit Award he received that moved Tebow most. He and his family were the subject of the evening's most emotional moment when Tebow was recognized for his humanitarian work in the Philippines and his countless hours spent sharing the Gospel with inmates and orphans.
"This means a lot, especially for me it means more than winning the Heisman or those (other) awards because it's about what I do off the field, and that's more important," Tebow, 21, said.
The Disney Spirit Award is given annually to college football's most inspirational figure. Tebow said after receiving the award that he sometimes feels the pressure of being a role model, but he welcomes it.
"There are so many athletes today that say, 'I'm not a role model, I'm not a role model,' and they make so many excuses," Tebow said. "Well, whether you like it or not, you are a role model. You're either a good one or a bad one, and unfortunately most of them are bad role models today. For me, I just want to be a good role model, like Danny Wuerffel was for me and several other guys that I looked up to. I want to be someone that kids can look up to in today's society."
Whether the Maxwell win is a positive sign for Tebow and his aspirations to become a two-time Heisman winner remains to be seen. Of the 71 winners of the Maxwell Award, 31 won the Heisman that year. Last year, Tebow became the first in eight years to win both the Maxwell and Heisman.
Florida State was well-represented at the awards show, which was held at the Walt Disney World Resort. FSU coach Bobby Bowden, 79, was given the Contributions to College Football Award, and Graham Gano won the Lou Groza Award for the nation's best kicker. Gano, the senior from Pensacola who led the nation in field goals per game and converted 24-of-26 this season, said it was a dream come true.
"This is pretty exciting," he said. "It's been a goal of mine to win this award (since he was a high school kicker). I don't think it's hit me yet."
Sam Bradford, the sophomore who will lead Oklahoma against the Gators in the BCS title game on Jan. 8, won the Davey O'Brien Award for best quarterback. Colt McCoy, Texas' junior quarterback, was the Walter Camp player of the year. Both are finalists, along with Tebow, for the Heisman Trophy, which will be presented Saturday night in New York.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.