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Terrific Tebow tries for encore

August 17, 2008|From the Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow has the build of a linebacker, the mentality of a coach and the skills to play just about anywhere on the field.

Off the field, he's just as engaged in his Christian faith. Florida's star quarterback spends much of his spare time going on mission trips, working with underprivileged youth and visiting hospitals and prisons.

He even helped perform a few circumcisions in an impoverished Philippines village -- during spring break.

Although some might question his too-good-to-be-true persona, Tebow wants to make it clear that his achievements off the field define him more than his accomplishments on it, where he set all sorts of records running Florida's spread offense as a sophomore

"If people don't believe it, that's fine," Tebow said. "There's always going to be nay-sayers, people that are going to say it's fake. But that's fine because you can't control everybody. But I can control what I do, my attitude, how I approach the situation.

"How I approach the situation is I want to do everything in my power that football gives me to influence as many people as I can for the good, because that's gonna mean so much more when it's all said and done than just playing football and winning championships."

Tebow threw for 3,286 yards and 32 touchdowns last season, ran for 895 yards and 23 scores. He became the first underclassman to accept college football's most prestigious award and prompted Gators Coach Urban Meyer to call him "the best quarterback of our era." Instead of basking in the spotlight or trying to hobnob with celebrities following his newfound fame, Tebow went back to work -- spreading his message of faith further than ever before.

In March, while many of his teammates, classmates and close friends hit the road for spring break, Tebow traveled to his father's orphanage in the Philippines. He visited schools and marketplaces in General Santos City, speaking mostly about his faith, and was invited to assist doctors with some medical procedures.

Tebow removed cysts from patients and performed a few circumcisions.

"It was a great experience for me," Tebow said. "It's something I enjoyed doing, I love doing. It's something I'm very passionate about. The reason I do it is because it's more important than football to me. Doing those things, taking my platform as a football player and using it for good, using it to be an influence and change people's lives, that's more important than football to me.

"That's kind of why I do the things, preaching in prisons, doing those different things, trying to take advantage of that platform that God has blessed me with."

Tebow also took similar mission trips to Croatia and Thailand.

His work back home was just as rewarding.

In April, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound left-hander from nearby Jacksonville spent the better part of the day inside two Florida state prisons.

Nearly 80 inmates at Gainesville Correctional Institute, a minimum-medium security facility that once housed former baseball stars Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, and 40 more at Lancaster Correctional Institute in Trenton listened to Tebow speak. He led them in prayer, then helped distribute Bibles and other literature. He also signed numerous autographs.

Tebow's good deeds have left even his teammates in awe.

"He's the real deal," offensive tackle Phil Trautwein said. "The things he does, he would be doing them even if he wasn't a Heisman winner."

Tebow has even inspired Meyer, who vowed this spring to follow his signal-caller's lead and take a mission trip.

Meyer, his wife and three children went to the Dominican Republic in July. They traveled as part of a group from SCORE International, an organization that runs mission trips to 20 countries to evangelize and support the local church.

Meyer said his family helped feed 100 families daily and spent time at an all-girls orphanage and a leper colony.

Tebow learned to do that at an early age. His parents, Bob and Pam Tebow, lived in the Philippines with their five children during the 1980s and 1990s. They've eventually settled in Jacksonville, where Tim was home-schooled but able to play football at a public high school because of state law.

But even before he became one of the most sought after recruits in the country, he was doing the kind of missionary work he does now. Does it ever get old?

"Those things are more important than playing football for me. Going and speaking in a prison is more important for me. Going to speak to a youth organization is more important to me than winning or playing a game."

What about beating a rival like Tennessee, Georgia or Florida State?

"It doesn't come close to having the ability to put a smile on a kid's face or go to a hospital and see a girl who is about to die, see her smile because you're there to see her," he said. "I mean, you can't put a price on it, on what that does for me."

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