Tebow Content As Chris Leak’s Understudy

He doesn’t look like a freshman. He doesn’t throw a football like a freshman. He certainly doesn’t handle things in the huddle like a typical freshman. And, he certainly doesn’t handle the media like a freshman. Yet, Tim Tebow is indeed a freshman and if you’re expecting his ego to suddenly come into play so we can have a full blown quarterback controversy, you can forget that.

When you watch Tim Tebow in seven-on-seven drills, taking charge in the huddle, making the right decisions where to go with the ball and then delivering what looks like a 90 mile per hour fast ball on the numbers to his receivers, it’s like watching a grizzled been there, done that veteran. Not only is he a born leader, evidenced by the way he handles his teammates in the huddle, but he’s an extraordinary talent. There aren’t too many people in the world that can make split second decisions and then throw a football with that kind of velocity and accuracy to the right place just about every time.

You only have to watch him a couple of reps and you understand why it is that Urban Meyer made him the cornerstone of his recruiting class at Florida and why Mike Shula at Alabama and Pete Carroll at Southern Cal pitched such a heated battle in their efforts to recruit him. He’s got the talent. He’s got the leadership. He’s got presence.

He’s got it, whatever it is, and it makes him special.

Yet for all the it that Tim Tebow has, there’s another quality about him and this is the one that makes him the perfect fit at Florida.

He’s humble and being humble is what separates him from your typical five-star quarterback that rides into town with a gunslinger mentality, expecting the reigns of the offense and the starting job to be handed to him from day one.

Tebow has no such expectations.

Does he want to start? Sure, but he wants to start when it’s his turn and not before. Does he want to be THE man? You know he does but again, it’s not his turn quite yet. Until it’s his turn, he’ll wait patiently and do everything he can to be a worthy successor.

Right now, this is Chris Leak’s turn. Chris is the senior. Chris is the three-year starter. Chris is Urban Meyer’s guy. Tim Tebow will be his guy one of these days but not right now. Right now, Tebow is perfectly content being the crown prince while King Chris leads the Gators into battle.

Leak has 33 career starts, 22 career victories, 8,271 passing yards and 65 touchdown passes, numbers that would make him the all-time all-timer at most Division I schools but at Florida, where the list of predecessors at the position are named Wuerffel, Matthews, Grossman, Bell and Spurrier, the expectations are basically through the roof. There’s no such thing as realistic when it comes to the expectations of Florida fans and their quarterbacks.

For all his accomplishments, Leak has endured far more criticism than Wuerffel, Matthews, Grossman, Bell and Spurrier combined. He might be the single most under-appreciated quarterback in Florida history. Perhaps it’s because Leak arrived with more hype than any quarterback ever recruited to Florida. Perhaps it’s because from the moment he committed to Florida at the US Army All-American Game he started recruiting for the Gators, telling potential recruits “come to Florida and win a national championship with me.”

When he signed with Florida he said he wouldn’t get a girlfriend until he won a national championship at Florida. He’s got the girlfriend. He doesn’t have the championship. And now he’s gone through a frustrating season in his third offense in three years and everybody’s saying the Gators can’t win with Chris Leak being the square peg trying to fit in the round hole that is Urban Meyer’s spread option.

Then there is the Tebow factor. He’s every bit as hyped out of high school as Leak, maybe even more so, and with his ability to run with the football, he just might be the perfect fit for the spread option offense. With Florida’s quarterback situation, where Tebow is the second stringer from day one, fans and some in the media are ready to make Tebow a keg of gasoline that they’ll throw onto a raging fire if Leak doesn’t come out of the chute looking like the second coming of Roger Staubach in the fall.

Ever since Tebow played brilliantly in the spring game, the quarterback controversy conspiracy theorists have been gathering at the border, ready to launch a full scale assault that will propel the freshman into the driver’s seat. No matter how much or how often Urban Meyer says there is no quarterback controversy people seem to disregard what he says. It’s almost as if they WANT a controversy. Even Florida State coach Bobby Bowden has thrown out a little barb, saying that the first time Leak struggles in a game where Tebow has a couple of good series, there will be a full blown quarterback controversy at Florida.

Tebow just shrugs all that off.

“I’m not trying to worry about all that outside stuff,” he says.

From Tebow’s perspective, there is nothing to worry about. If Urban Meyer says it or if his dad, whom he always says is the most influential person in his life, says it, then he listens. Otherwise, he just tunes it out. The way he looks at it, he’s the second string quarterback at the University of Florida, just practicing, just trying to learn, just trying to be ready when Urban Meyer tells him to get in the game and trying to prep himself for the day when Chris Leak has used up all his eligibility. Fans may be ready to create a quarterback controversy but ask Tim Tebow who’s THE man and he’ll tell you it’s Chris Leak.

That’s not a politically correct freshman talking. That’s just the way Tebow is. He really is that humble. He really is that patient.

He thinks of Chris Leak as his mentor and he studies everything Leak does. When Leak throws, he’s amazed at the accuracy and the perfect spirals.

“I was watching Chris throw the ball,” said Tebow after Monday afternoon’s practice. “There aren’t too many people in the world that can throw a prettier pass than Chris. Every day it’s awesome to come out here and work with a quarterback like that. I think since I’ve been here he’s thrown maybe two balls that weren’t spirals.”

He and Leak study film together, talk about the offense together and spend a lot of time just talking about football. There’s no jealousy here.

“I think we’re just two guys that like to compete and like to play football,” said Tebow. “He’s an older guy so it’s good to play under someone like that and learn from him and it’s a great opportunity. He’s a good guy, a humble guy and he likes to play football and so do I. We just go out there and have fun.”

He’s having fun and lots of it. He’s also learning every day, waiting his turn patiently, knowing that his golden opportunity will arrive at the appointed time and not one second before. He will be ready when his chance arrives. Until then, he’s Chris Leak’s biggest fan and hard working understudy.

And that’s a role that suits him perfectly.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.