The spotlight that shines almost constantly on Tim Tebow is a far cry from his days as ‘Shade Tree.’
Consider his presence Saturday on the Lipscomb University campus as an example.
What started as an invitation to be the keynote speaker at a signature athletic department turned into an all-day affair filled with photos and questions and even involved his parents.
“I just try to manage my time very carefully and do things that are close to my heart,” the former University of Florida quarterback said. “Things that I feel can really make a difference in doing and that I really enjoy doing.
“But really, I do very few activities, very few endorsements, very few things that take up my time because besides my faith, family and my foundation the rest of my time is devoted to football. I’m a huge ball guy and I love spending time doing that. For the next few months, that’s all I’m going to be doing pretty much.”
Five days before the NFL draft – his selection will be one of the most anticipated and dissected – he stepped away from the game and served as keynote speaker for the Don Meyer Evening of Excellence. It was the second incarnation of the event, which was christened a year earlier in honor of the school’s former basketball coach.
Tebow did far more than just show up, address the sellout crowd at Allen Arena and go home, though.
First, he spent time at a luncheon for athletics department staff members and their family members. There he spent nearly an hour taking pictures and then spoke to the children in attendance about pursuing their dreams. The menu – chicken tenders, macaroni and cheese, and biscuits – was chosen because they were among his favorites.
Next, he and his parents conducted a press conference, heavy on questions about his football future. That was followed by a parenting seminar, which featured Bob and Pam Tebow. Finally came the keynote address.
Lipscomb director of athletics Philip Hutcheson said an estimated 7,000 people – including a sellout of 5,500 for the keynote speech – would be attracted to campus throughout the day by Tebow’s presence.
“I’ve never been someone who likes to do a lot of fluff – like just do a lot of stuff that doesn’t matter,” he said. “In my days I like to do stuff that I feel really matters – that’s playing the sport I love – football – that’s training for the sport I love; that’s visiting kids in the hospital; that’s going on mission trips and trying to make a difference in kids’ lives. … I really put my heart into those things.”
The focus and the work ethic that have fueled the Tebow legend through his 2007 Heisman Trophy, his two national championships and the myriad school and conference records he set were not skills he had naturally. He learned and nurtured them over time.
“He’s developed the greatest work ethic I’ve ever seen somebody posses,” Bob Tebow said. “That wasn’t always the case. We called him ‘Shade Tree.’ We’d send all five of them out to do chores, to work in the garden and he didn’t work his hoe, he leaned on it.
“It was a long process of teaching him to work hard, but he caught on and he’ll outwork just about anybody now.”
It is for that reason that he is one of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s draft.
There are deficiencies in his game. He readily acknowledges as much yet is willing to address them with that same fervor.
He has spent most of his time in recent weeks training at a Franklin facility with an array of coaches and specialists and says he has made progress. He also said he has traveled “almost every other day” to interview with various NFL teams.
Saturday, however, he redirected his focus, at least for a while.
“For me to do something to take (attention) off of me and give back and try to do something that’s not about me, but … maybe someone I can inspire, maybe someone I can give hope to, maybe someone I can make a difference in their life then that honestly makes me feel better,” Tebow said. “It’s not all about me. It’s what I can do for other people. That’s why I love doing events like I’m doing (Saturday).”
Other highlights from Tebow’s press conference:
On the difference between the college recruiting process and preparing for the NFL draft: “It definitely is a lot different than the college recruiting process. You knew that you were in control and you know you had the final say in everything. Now, you have sit back and wait and see what happens. I think both processes are exciting. They’re a lot of fun to go through. They’re totally different. But I’ve actually enjoyed both processes.
“I’ve enjoyed this. It’s been a fun time for me. There’s been a lot of scrutiny from (the media) and everybody else. But it’s been fun and I’ve enjoyed it. Along the way people been telling me it’s going to be a hard process and don’t get stressed out about it. But it’s been fun. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed it – every different thing from the Senior Bowl to the combine to the pro day to the individual workout to flying to meet with individual teams to everything involved to sitting down talking football with coaches. It’s everything I love to do. I love playing football and I love what I do. So it hasn’t been stressful, it has been fun. … Honestly, it hasn’t been too bad at all.”
On a recent video of Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones on which Jones said Tebow “wouldn’t get on the field” for Dallas: “I was actually at an NFL city when that came out. So they were kind of laughing about it there. I have really even, you know, thought about it. … He was just having fun.”
On specific areas of interest during his pre-draft training: “I think I’ve improved in a lot of different ways, just with my strength training, with speed training, with conditioning and then also fundamentals with the different quarterback coaches I’ve been working with. Just spending the time training, I think I’ve improved overall.”
On those who say he should play a position other than quarterback in the NFL: “To be honest, it just makes me work a little harder … try to do a little bit better. Honestly, I’m not listening to them too much because they’re usually not the ones out there playing, and they’re usually not the ones out there coaching. So I don’t have t pay too much attention to them.”
On whether he will be in New York for the draft: “I haven’t made a decision. Not yet. It will probably be sometime next week. … I just have to pray about it, talk to may family about it and just figure that situation out.”