THE ADVICE HE gotat this year's spring game was short and simple, but Tim Tebow promises he'sgoing to remember it every time something goes awry this season. "Justrelax and play your game," Danny Wuerffel, the Gators' 1996 Heisman-winningquarterback, told Tebow. "Don't worry about all the hype."
It's a wisesuggestion, because the 20-year-old Tebow is fast becoming a full-blown folkhero in Gainesville. A true freshman last season, he played as a bruising,single-wing-style back in Florida's spread offense, gaining 469 yards rushing(second-best on the team), and his 5.3-yards-per-carry average was thesecond-highest in the nation for a quarterback, trailing only that of WestVirginia's Pat White (7.4). As a result, there are now three dozen tributes toTebow on YouTube, and he's received requests to speak to more than 200organizations since last January. This year Tebow will take over the full-timejob at quarterback, replacing four-yvar starter Chris Leak, and the defendingnational champions will go only as far as he guides them.
"That's therole of the quarterback at Florida," says offensive coordinator Dan Mullen,"and that's been passed to him. Last year he was a playmaker; this year hehas to get the ball to our playmakers. Everyone knows he can run, but he'sgoing to surprise some people with how well he can pass."
In 2006 Tebow putthe ball in the air only 33 times. This spring he worked on shortening histhrowing motion with Mullen, who helped Utah quarterback Alex Smith developinto the No. 1 pick of the '05 NFL draft. "His windup was too much like abaseball player's before," says Mullen. Tebow also improved his balance andfootwork, which were spotty at times last season, causing some of his throws tomiss their mark.
"There'sdefinitely a lot of pressure because everyone is gunning for us, but we'reready to go," says the 6' 3'', 235-pound Tebow. "We have the potentialon offense to be pretty explosive."
Tebow will have asmuch talent to work with at the skill positions as any quarterback in thenation. The Gators' wide receiver tandem of senior Andre Caldwell and sophomorePercy Harvin combined to catch 91¬†passes last season. The elusive Harvin,who hauled in nine passes for 60 yards in the BCS championship game againstOhio¬†State, was also the team's third-leading rusher in 2006, with437¬†yards.
"A great dayfor us on offense will be if seven to nine guys each have 10¬†touches inthe game," says Mullen. "And then we've got the added element that Timbrings. We'll definitely still mix a little single-wing in there." Which,if all goes according to plan, will only keep the Tebow legend growing inGainesville.
COACH: Urban Meyer
2006 RECORD: 13-1 (7-1¬†in¬†SEC)
FINAL AP RANK: 1
Offense 6, Defense 3
DE Derrick Harvey (Jr.)
All-America candidate had 11 sacks last season
SS Tony Joiner (Sr.)
Only returning defender who started all 14 games
C Drew Miller (Sr.)
Anchors a line with a total of 63 career starts
Sept. 1 WESTERN KENTUCKY
22 at Mississippi
Oct. 6 at LSU
20 at Kentucky
Nov. 3 VANDERBILT
10 at South Carolina
17 FLORIDA ATLANTIC
24 FLORIDA STATE
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Tebow's per-carry average (5.3 yards) was second in thenation for a quarterback.
Tebow has worked hard to improve his passing.
Al Messersmith/Icon SMI (mascot)