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Tebow doesn't feel pressure to repeat as Heisman winner

GAINESVILLE

Tim Tebow knows what it is like to be treated like a rock star before you even become a starter.

He knows what it's like to be recognized in airports as far away as the Philippines and Croatia.

He knows how to deal with throngs of fans everywhere, from the local Wal-Mart to the national ESPY Awards.

And as Florida begins practice this week for the season ahead, its junior quarterback is learning what it's like to face the expectations of repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner.

"It changes everything," said Archie Griffin, the only player to win the Heisman twice, as a running back at Ohio State in 1974 and '75. "Tim Tebow, when he came to college, he was very well-known.

"But after winning the Heisman, he is now truly a marked man. On the field, people take a little extra effort when they know they've got to play against you. And when they hit you, they hit you a little harder, and sometimes they even make comments about hitting a Heisman Trophy winner. The pressure's on him. They have to be great. But he seems to be a young man who deals with those pressures pretty well."

How well Tebow handles that pressure might go a long way toward determining how good Florida is. The Gators believe he'll be just fine, the same unflappable, fierce competitor who arrived on campus from Nease High in Ponte Vedra Beach with a cultlike following.

"Tim is as good a leader as I've ever seen," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "He's had a great summer. He's handled things well. Tim has stayed on course."

Tebow, whose major is family, youth and community sciences, insists he's unfazed by talk of the "reigning Heisman" pressure.

"I think everybody's situation has been a little bit different as far as coming back," he said. "A lot of people ask me about the pressure. At the University of Florida, every year there's going to be pressure. No matter what happened the previous year, what trophies you won, it's the University of Florida. The quarterback's always going to have pressure.

"I've never really been one to worry about pressure too much. I'm just going out there, playing a sport that I love and I'm very passionate about. What pressure do I have? … I'm not worried about what's going to happen or if I can repeat or anything like that."

Following faith

In 1975, Griffin believed just the opposite.

Entering his senior season, he desperately wanted to win the trophy again. The pressure from fans and the media was nothing compared with what he put on himself.

"Our coach, Woody Hayes, had this little saying: 'You're either getting better or getting worse. You're never at the same level,' " said Griffin, now CEO and president of the Ohio State Alumni Association, the largest such organization in the country. "And for me, going into my senior year, I felt I at least needed to be an All-American again and win a Heisman Trophy — to at least be the same that I was before.

"I know that's warped thinking, but that's how I felt at the time. And it was my faith that really brought me through all of that."

Tebow, the son of a Christian missionary who spent his only three breaks this summer on mission trips around the world, and who will turn 21 on Aug. 14, has been unwavering in discussing how his faith sustains him. Griffin believes that will help carry Tebow through this season, too.

He knows it firsthand.

"I'll never forget reading the book of Psalms, and it said: 'Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart,' " Griffin said.

"And that really lifted that pressure, that weight off my shoulders, because it told me that my job was to find joy in serving God. And if I would do that, he would take that desire away from me of wanting to win the Heisman, or give it to me as a gift. He did the latter, and I'm very, very thankful for that. But it did lift a lot of pressure off of me."

Putting faith in Tebow

Early this spring, Meyer was asked if he had spoken with any colleagues about the pitfalls and perils of coaching a Heisman Trophy winner. He is friendly with Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and acquainted with USC's Pete Carroll, who coached quarterbacks Jason White and Matt Leinart, respectively, the season after they won the Heisman.

At the time, Meyer had not spoken with anyone but said it was something he would consider.

By late July, he had decided against seeking outside counsel. Why?

Tebow, Meyer reasons, is unique. And if anybody can handle the rigors that come with carrying the prestige — and the burden — of returning as the Heisman Trophy winner, it's Tebow.

"It's a nonissue for him as far as being focused," Meyer said. "I do worry about people pulling at him. I try to give my advice and talk to him. But he's got his head on straight."

Timing is everything

For years, Griffin has wondered if, and when, someone would duplicate his double. He believes this could be the year. But Tebow will have strong competition, including Ohio State running back Chris Wells, to many the early favorite to give Tebow his biggest challenge.

For Griffin, it's simple: May the best man win.

"I want the person who's deserving of winning the Heisman Trophy to win the Heisman Trophy," he said. "If (Tebow) has a season deserving of winning, I want him to win it."

What Tebow wants, he says, is an SEC title and a national championship. If a Heisman Trophy comes along with that, so be it.

If asked, Griffin said he'd offer some advice: Be yourself.

"I would tell him to take control of the things he's got control of," Griffin said. "His work ethic, his preparation for playing this season, his mental and physical preparation, and to go out and play knowing that he's on a great team and not feeling that everybody is looking at him."

Except everybody is looking at him.

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

The encores

Previous underclassmen winners, all juniors, and their followups:

YearWinner, schoolNext season's results
1945Doc Blanchard

Army
The fullback finished fourth in the voting, with backfield mate Glenn Davis winning.
1948Doak Walker

SMU
The running back finished third as Notre Dame end Leon Hart won.
1950Vic Janowicz

Ohio State
The running back was all-conference but finished outside the Heisman top 10. Princeton running back Richard Kazmaier won.
1963Roger Staubach

Navy
The QB's hopes were hurt by Navy's 3-6-1 record. Notre Dame QB John Huarte won.
1974Archie Griffin

Ohio State
The running back became the first, and so far only, player to repeat.
1978Billy Sims

Oklahoma
The running back was a distant second to USC running back Charles White.
1982Herschel Walker

Georgia
The running back was the first winner with eligibility not to return, opting for the USFL.
1988Barry Sanders

Oklahoma State
The running back left school and had 1,470 yards and 14 TDs for the Detroit Lions.
1989Andre Ware

Houston
The QB left school and appeared in 4 NFL games (starting one) with one TD for Detroit.
1990Ty Detmer

BYU
The QB threw for 35 TDs, but BYU started 0-3 to hurt his Heisman hopes. He finished third.
1991Desmond Howard

Michigan
The receiver left school for the NFL and scored one TD on 28 returns for the Redskins.
1994Rashaan Salaam

Colorado
The running back left school and had 1,074 yards and 10 TDs for the Bears.
1997Charles Woodson

Michigan
The cornerback left school and intercepted five passes for the Raiders.
2003Jason White

Oklahoma
The QB led the Sooners to the BCS title game and finished third in the Heisman voting.
2004Matt Leinart

Southern Cal
The QB led USC back to the title game and finished third in the voting.
2005Reggie Bush

Southern Cal

The running back left school and had 8 TDs and 1,307 yards of total offense for the Saints.


.FAST FACTS

Early Heisman contenders

Chase Daniel: Missouri QB, senior. He was among last season's finalists after amassing 4,306 yards and 33 touchdowns. He returns with enough talent around him to make a second trip to New York.

Knowshon Moreno: Georgia RB, sophomore. He burst onto the scene as a freshman and finished with 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns. He's the least-known of the early contenders. But with Georgia's preseason No. 1 ranking in the coaches' poll and a tough schedule, he will have plenty of opportunities to make his case.

Tim Tebow: Florida QB, junior. The reigning Heisman winner most likely won't amass the offensive numbers he had last season (rushing for 23 touchdowns and passing for 32). But with a full complement of offensive weapons, including an improved running game, perhaps he will win it with his arm alone.

Chris Wells: Ohio State, RB, junior. He rushed for 1,609 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. And behind a veteran offensive line, he is poised for another big season on a team expected to again contend for a national title.

Pat White: West Virginia QB, senior. Even hampered by injuries, the two-time Big East offensive player of the year rushed for 1,335 yards and threw for 1,724 last season. Imagine what he could do if he's healthy.

Tebow doesn't feel pressure to repeat as Heisman winner 08/02/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 4, 2008 3:11pm]

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