All Heisman Trophy winners are great college football players.
But some Heisman Trophy winners are more than that. Some are phenoms who transcend the sport.
Florida’s Tim Tebow was one such Heisman Trophy winner. His appearance on the college football scene in 2007 marked a clear demarcation point between past and present. The Heisman, in particular, has not been the same since.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Tebow capped one of the finest seasons in NCAA history by becoming the first sophomore — and the first non-junior or senior — to win the Heisman Trophy. Tebow’s victory opened the flood gates for more underclassmen to win the Heisman as three more sophomores and two freshmen also captured the honor in the years since. Remarkably, no senior has won the award during that span.
Tebow, the youngest of five children, was born in Makati City in the Philippines, making him one of three Heisman winners to be born outside of the U.S. (the other two being Robert Griffin III of Baylor and Frank Sinkwich of Georgia).
His family later settled in Jacksonville, Fla., where Tebow attended Trinity Christian Academy, playing tight end for the football team. He later enrolled at Nease High, where he earned national recognition as a dual-threat quarterback. During his senior season he led Nease to a state title, earned All-State honors and was named Florida’s Mr. Football.
The highly-recruited Tebow could have gone anywhere he wanted. But his unique skill set was a great match for Urban Meyer’s program at Florida, with whom he signed in 2006.
It didn’t take long for him to make an impact. He spent the fall of 2006 as a key true freshman backup to Chris Leak. The Gators won the national title as Tebow threw for 358 yards and rushed for 469. He totaled 13 touchdowns running and passing and was the team’s second-leading rusher. More important, his style of play was inspirational for teammates and fans. He quickly became an SEC folk hero.
Great expectations greeted Tebow as he took over the starting quarterback spot for the Gators as a true sophomore in 2007. He exceeded those expectations, and then some.
The tough, physical Tebow rushed and passed for 51 touchdowns during the regular season, becoming the first of the great ‘spread’ quarterbacks to win the Heisman. The trend has continued since as, since his Heisman triumph, six more spread quarterbacks have taken home the trophy, most of them putting up Tebow-esque numbers along the way.
Tebow himself threw for 3,132 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2007, with just six interceptions, and he rushed for 828 yards and 22 scores (the last figure an SEC record). Not surprisingly, he won the Heisman by a solid margin over Arkansas running back Darren McFadden. He joined Steve Spurrier (’66) and Danny Wuerffel (’96) as Gator Heisman winners.
But Tebow wasn’t finished with the Heisman. He flirted with history in the next two seasons, nearly joining Archie Griffin as the only two-time Heisman winner. As a junior in 2008, he led the nation in passing efficiency and finished a close third in the Heisman race despite garnering the most first-place votes. He led the Gators to another national title, too. He returned for his senior season in 2009 and again played well, earning a return to New York for a fifth-place Heisman finish. He remains the only three-time Heisman finalist.
At the end of his college career, Tebow held five NCAA, 14 SEC and 28 Florida statistical records. Among many mentions in the NCAA Division-I record book, Tebow ranked second in career passing efficiency, third in career yards per attempt (9.33), eighth in career rushing touchdowns, and also owned the record for most consecutive games in which he both threw at least one touchdown pass and scored at least one rushing touchdown (14).
Tebow was selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft, the 25th pick overall, by the Denver Broncos. He played sparingly as a rookie but led Denver to a playoff win over defending Super Bowl champs Pittsburgh in year two. He later had stints with the New York Jets, New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles before settling in as a college football commentator for ESPN.
Always a competitor, Tebow tried his hand at baseball and is currently in the New York Mets minor league system. One of six Heisman winners to play professional baseball, he hit .226 with eight home runs and 52 RBIs in his first season.
He remains active in community affairs through the Tim Tebow Foundation, with a focus on children with special needs.