LAKE BUENA VISTA — Eventually, Dan Mullen knew that Tim Tebow would be able to make all the throws. Tebow worked too hard and was too willing to make the necessary changes to his mechanics and that told Mullen that sooner or later, he would have a polished passer on his hands. He never expected sooner would be soon as in this year.
“I never thought he would develop nearly as fast as he has,” said Mullen Thursday night at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show where Tebow won the Davey O’Brien and Maxwell Awards. Tebow was also selected the quarterback for the Walter Camp All-American Team.
Tebow, Florida’s record-setting sophomore quarterback, became Florida’s third winner of the Davey O’Brien award, which has been given every year since 1981 to the nation’s top quarterback. Danny Wuerffel won the O’Brien as a junior in 1995 and repeated in 1996 when he won the Heisman Trophy.
Tebow is the first sophomore to ever win the Davey O’Brien Award.
“It’s a great honor [winning as a sophomore],” said Tebow. “It’s a huge honor and all I can say is I’m thankful.”
Tebow was selected for the award over Missouri’s Chase Daniel and Oregon’s Dennis Dixon, who will be on the podium Saturday in New York when the Heisman Trophy is announced along with Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, who won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.
As a freshman on Florida’s national championship team in 2006, Tebow was the backup to starting senior quarterback Chris Leak. He made a name for himself as Florida’s between the tackles runner who dabbled in passing. Tebow rushed for 469 yards and eight touchdowns. He completed 22 of 33 passes for 358 yards and five touchdowns.
Even though Tebow set state of Florida passing records as a prep All-American at Nease, there were questions galore about Tebow as a passer coming into the 2007 season. Everybody knew he could run with the ball, but there weren’t many experts who believed Tebow could throw with the kind of consistency necessary to make Florida’s offense dynamic. Quarterbacking purists saw the throwing motion, which looked more like a pitcher’s windup, and wobbly passes.
What the experts never figured was that Tebow would work relentlessly in the offseason to compact his delivery and improve his throwing mechanics.
“All spring he worked so hard so you knew it was going to happen for him,” said Mullen. “You could seem him working to clean up his accuracy and improve his throwing so you knew that he was going to be much improved, but to do it when the ball is snapped in front of 90,000 people The Swamp that was another step.
“To make that leap — to step into that role and to be able to make all the throws and all the decisions — was pretty amazing to watch it unfold. We felt all along that Tim would be a really fine passer and quarterback, but I can’t say anyone expected it this fast.”
Tebow did what everyone expected on the ground this year, powering his way for 838 yards. The 22 rushing touchdowns were unexpected but that’s because nobody in the history of the Southeastern Conference ever rushed for that many touchdowns, much less a quarterback. The 22 touchdowns tied the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns in a season by a quarterback.
A greater surprise was the way Tebow threw the football. He completed 217-317 passes for 3,132 yards and 29 touchdowns with only six interceptions. Tebow ranks second in the NCAA in passing efficiency (177.85) behind Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford.
Tebow said the O’Brien Award means so much because there were so many doubters.
“A lot of people didn’t know if I could throw so I just had to work all year with Coach Mullen,” said Tebow. “He helped me become a passer so it [the award] means a lot.”
Tebow’s development as a passer had as much to do with his decision-making as it did his improved mechanics.
“He made all the throws and he made smart decisions,” said Mullen. “I have to admit that I was surprised. Like I said, I knew he would be good, but I didn’t know he would be this good this fast.”
As Florida’s season progressed, Tebow began to show better pocket presence, a willingness to hang in and make the throws even with a strong pass rush in his face. It was that poise under pressure that Mullen says reminded him in many ways of Alex Smith, the 2004 Heisman runner-up that Mullen coached at Utah.
“In so many ways they’re alike in how poised they are,” said Mullen. “They have their differences but they’re the kind of guys under pressure that make smart decisions and do the right things. I thought Tim got better under pressure as the season went along.
“There’s not too many kids like those two and we’ve been lucky to coach two of them.”
Other award winners Thursday night were:
CHUCK BEDNARIK TROPHY (Best Defensive Player): Dan Connor, Penn State
OUTLAND TROPHY (Best Interior Lineman): Glenn Dorsey, LSU
BILETNIKOFF AWARD (Best Wide Receiver): Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
JIM THORPE AWARD (Best Defensive Back): Antoine Cason, Arizona
LOU GROZA COLLEGIATE PLACE-KICKER AWARD: Thomas Weber, Arizona State
RAY GUY AWARD (Best Punter): Durant Brooks, Georgia Tech
HOME DEPOT COACH OF THE YEAR AWARD: Mark Mangino, Kansas
WALTER CAMP ALL-AMERICA TEAM
Quarterback: Tim Tebow, Florida; Wide Receivers: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech and Jordy Nelson, Kansas State; Tight End: Travis Beckum, Wisconsin; Offensive Linemen: Sam Baker, USC; Anthony Collins, Kansas; Tony Hills, Texas; and Jake Long, Michigan; Center: Jonathon Luigs, Arkansas; Running Backs: Darren McFadden, Arkansas and Kevin Smith, UCF; Place Kicker: John Sullivan, New Mexico.
Linemen: Glenn Dorsey, LSU; Sedrick Ellis, USC; Chris Long, Virginia; and George Selvie, South Florida; Linebackers: Dan Conner, Penn State; Jordon Dizon, Colorado; and James Laurinaitis, Ohio State; Defensive Backs: Antoine Cason, Arizona; Craig Steltz, LSU; Aqib Talib, Kansas; Jamie Silva, Boston College; Punter: Kevin Huber, Cincinnati; Kick Returner: Felix Jones, Arkansas.
OTHER AWARD WINNERS WHO RECEIVED RECOGNITION:
ROTARY LOMBARDI AWARD (Outstanding Lineman): Glenn Dorsey, LSU.
BRONKO NAGURSKI TROPHY (Outstanding Defensive Player): Glenn Dorsey, LSU.
FRANK BROYLES AWARD (Top Assistant Coach): Jim Heacock, Ohio State.
JOHN MACKEY AWARD (Best Tight End): Fred Davis, USC.
RIMINGTON TROPHY (Outstanding Center): Jonathon Luigs, Arkansas