(Photo: AP Images / Butch Dill)
Like many young boys, Tim Tebow had long looked forward to becoming a professional football player.
And while today, the 21-year-old college football star still looks forward to becoming a quarterback in the NFL, that’s not what he looks forward to most as he and the University of Florida prepare for the start of the new football season.
“[M]ost is just the opportunity to have an impact with my platform and have a chance to minister around the country to boys and girls who look up to football players,” Tebow told reporters recently during a Southeastern Conference (SEC) media day.
And it is mainly for this reason that Tebow decided last year to return to school for his senior year rather than declaring himself eligible for the NFL draft.
“We just talked and talked about the platform that I had at the University of Florida, the opportunity that I had to minister to a lot of kids around the south, and the U.S. for that matter, and just what was going on around the University of Florida, how much I loved it, how I loved being a Gator,” the outspoken Christian quarterback said Thursday when recalling last year’s decision.
“And I also wanted to be loyal,” he continued. “Most people probably would have said ‘I’ve accomplished some things so I’m going to leave.’ But I wanted to be different. I wanted to be loyal.”
Had Tebow decided to declare himself eligible for the NFL draft last year, he would have been a top prospect.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound left-hander led the Gators to a 24-14 victory against Oklahoma in the Bowl Championship Series title game this past January, giving the University of Florida its second national football title in three years.
Tebow is also one of the most popular and respected players in NCAA football, having been the first college sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy and the first college football player to both rush and pass for 20 touchdowns in a season.
He appears on the front page of the July 27, 2009, edition of Sports Illustrated magazine with the title “Man of Many Missions.”
The title of the story inside: “You Gotta Love Tim Tebow.”
But as Tebow reiterated Thursday, "I wanted to be loyal to my teammates and let them know that I care more about them than going to try to go to the next level and do something else."
"I wanted to be loyal to Coach Meyer and thank him for everything he’s done for me," he added, referring to Florida coach Urban Meyer.
Having decided to stay, Tebow now gives the Gators an excellent chance at snagging their first undefeated season and fourth national title.
Tebow also has a chance to expand his growing platform, something that he was able to the see the impact of earlier this year after Florida’s championship win.
“In the national championship game, the verses I wore underneath my eyes, within the next two days, 94 million people had googled that,” Tebow recalled Thursday, referring to the scripture citations that he is often seen sporting in his black under-eye markings.
“When I heard that you’re like ‘wow.’ The impact that you have is incredible. And it’s truly a blessing. And I wanted to take advantage of that one more year,” he added.
Though Tebow’s father, Bob Tebow, today jokes how God gave him a quarterback for a son when he asked for a preacher, Tebow has been noted for excelling as both.
“Having covered Tim for three years, I would say he's the most effective ambassador-warrior for his faith I've come across in 25 years at SI,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Austin Murphy in this month’s cover story on Tebow.
“At a time when Americans are leaving organized religion in large numbers, according to a 2008 Pew Research poll, Tebow is leading his own personal counterinsurgency,” Murphy added.
Aside from his achievements on the field, Tebow has been highlighted for his evangelistic outreach and overseas charity works. The son of missionaries frequently visits the Philippines, where he was born, and helps orphans and even performs surgeries with the help of an assistant. He has also preached at several venues, including a prison, where he told inmates last April that he has found “true satisfaction, true happiness ... by having a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
When asked how he ministers to young kids across America, Tebow said Thursday, “Well, I think the number one way that you minister to people is through your actions – by them seeing you and how you act and how you treat people and how you love people.”
“My goal to do that is for my teammates and people in general to see that I’m a genuine person, someone who cares about them. When someone needs something, I want to be the first one there. If there’s a new sick kid in the hospital, I want to be there first one to visit him,” he continued.
“I think they see that and they say ‘What is it about him that does that?’ Then I have the opportunity to say, ‘That’s my relationship with Jesus Christ.’ And you’ll get to minister your faith and what you believe in by your actions first and not always preaching or trying to share it first, but how you act and what you do first,” Tebow said.
Tebow began his football career after legislation was passed in Florida in 1996 that allowed homeschooled students to compete in local high school sporting events. He and his siblings were all homeschooled by their mother, who worked to instill the family’s deep Christian beliefs along the way.
Each year the Tebow children visit the Philippines, where they devote time working in their father's ministry, the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association.
The ministry, which boasts a staff of 45 Filipino pastors who have preached the Gospel to more than 15 million, has helped start 10,000 churches and opened an orphanage that houses more than 50 children, as Sports Illustrated noted in its cover story.