This interview with Tim Tebow appeared in Athlon's 2009 college football annual.
Some players live up to the recruiting hype. Others don’t. Then there is Tim Tebow, who has exceeded even the loftiest dreams of the Gator Nation. It was a big deal when he committed to Florida in 2006. How has it worked out? One Heisman, two national championships, two SEC titles. The face of college football gave Athlon Sports some time to discuss his Ole Miss speech, losing Dan Mullen and the chances Florida has to repeat.
How different were your emotions after winning a Heisman Trophy in 2007 compared to winning a national championship last season?
Tim Tebow: The Heisman was unbelievable and very exciting. The emotions of winning that award — it was a great honor. But winning the national championship was totally different. For me, it was much more special. The Heisman is a team award and everything, but you win the national championship with the guys you work with every day all year and the coaches you care about. The Heisman doesn’t compare.
How about the difference between winning the national title as a backup — and you were a very important backup to Chris Leak in 2006 — and as a starter?
Tim Tebow: It was definitely more special last year than it was in 2006. With everything we went through and the loss to Ole Miss, to come back and win it was something. And it was my junior year and it was more my team.
Who is the best player in the SEC not playing for Florida?
Tim Tebow: That’s a good one. I’d probably say Eric Berry of Tennessee. He’s a really good player, very instinctive. He’s very physical and he’s just a playmaker. He does things that you can’t teach.
How many times have you seen the video of the famous speech you gave after the loss to Ole Miss?
Tim Tebow: Quite a few. When I go to these places where I speak, they like to show an introduction and they always have that speech as part of it. That, and me yelling. I look at those videos of me yelling during a game and I look kind of mean.
What’s the biggest misconception about Tim Tebow?
Tim Tebow: Wow. That’s an interesting question. Maybe it’s that, when people meet me in person, they are surprised that I’m not more intense. They see me on the field and they think I’m going to be the same intense guy I am on the field. They think I’m going to be screaming or something and not be friendly. I’ve had people say to me, “I thought you’d be a lot more intense.” So that’s probably it, that some people are expecting something else.
Are you aware of what some writers and broadcasters have referred to as the “Tebow backlash” — that your popularity has grown so large it may cause some people to resent you? Some people believe that’s why you didn’t win a second Heisman last year despite getting the most first-place votes.
Tim Tebow: I’ve heard about that, heard some analysts talking about it. I’m not going to worry about that. I’m going to be who I am. I’m going to be the best person I can be, the best leader I can be and the best player I can be. I’m not going to worry about what I can’t control. People can say what they want and I don’t like it if they do. I’d rather they get to know me as a person.
What’s your favorite college stadium to play in besides The Swamp?
Tim Tebow: LSU. Baton Rouge. That’s a very exciting place for me to play. I’m looking forward to playing there this year.
Which team is Florida’s biggest rival?
Tim Tebow: You can’t ask me that (laughing). I think it’s different depending on who you are, when you grew up following the Gators. If you are like my dad, old-time Gator, it’s Georgia. No question. If you are younger, a mid-’90s kind of person, it’s probably Florida State. And Tennessee is definitely up there. They’re all big games. That’s one thing that’s special about Florida, all the rivalries we have.
Speaking of Tennessee, what was your reaction to some of the things said by their new coach Lane Kiffin during the offseason? He went after your coach and some other coaches in the SEC.
Tim Tebow: He did a good job at Southern Cal. He’ll work hard to do the best he can at Tennessee. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play against him.
That’s very politically correct.
What was your reaction to wide receiver Percy Harvin leaving a year early for the NFL and linebacker Brandon Spikes deciding to join you to return for another year?
Tim Tebow: I think it was the right decision for both of them. They both thought long and hard about it. They were in different situations. It was really two different scenarios. They were both looking for different things. I think Percy made the right decision for him and Brandon made the right decision for him.
What do you think when you see and hear so many people — whether it be on TV, talk radio or on the web — talk about your NFL future and whether or not your skills will translate to the next level?
Tim Tebow: Some are nice, some are not nice. I’m going to work very hard to succeed at the next level. It has been my goal since I was six years old, to play quarterback in the NFL. I’m going to work very hard at it, but right now my goal is to be the best leader I can be for the University of Florida.
So it hasn’t been your goal since you were six to play fullback in the NFL?
Tim Tebow: It hasn’t.
How did losing offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, who worked so closely with you the last three seasons, affect you personally?
Tim Tebow: We’re going to miss him but we still stay in touch. We talked just the other day. He had a baby. Well, he didn’t have it. But they were excited about that. I’m very excited for him. I’ll keep in touch with him. But I’m also excited about our new quarterbacks coach, Scot Loeffler.
The 2007 Florida team struggled a year after winning a national title, going 9–4 and losing to Georgia. What’s different about this team that now has to defend a national title?
Tim Tebow: This year’s team is so much more mature than that team in 2007. That team lost a lot of the leaders and the players and the charisma from the national championship team. That team lost so much. We’ve got a lot of those guys back this time around. The leaders, the charismatic guys who were the glue a year ago, almost all of them are back. And this team is not satisfied just winning a national title. We want to be a dynasty, create a special legacy and make a real impact on college football.
If you weren’t playing football at Florida, what would you be playing?
Tim Tebow: Baseball. I would pitch and maybe play first base and the outfield. I like hitting.