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."
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.