Tim Tebow 'Gave His Heart'

Florida Gators say a long goodbye to beloved quarterback.

December 3, 2009, 2:48 PM

Dec. 4, 2009— -- Florida quarterback Tim Tebow's final days at the University of Florida are playing out like a high-stakes drama.

He enters Saturday's long-anticipated SEC Championship showdown against No. 2 Alabama with a 12-0 record, a third Heisman Trophy nomination and a chance to play for a repeat national title on the line.

Much has been said about Tebow's college football legacy, but his impact extends beyond teammates and those touched by his volunteer work, which include visits to inmates in a local prison and mission work in the Philippines. University of Florida students say they will miss the emotional leader who has brought awards, championships and pride to the university.

Jacki Klutcharch, 21, a UF public relations senior, has watched Tebow play since both were freshmen. At the time, Tebow was a fiery backup to former quarterback Chris Leak, sent in mainly on fourth-and-short situations and for his first, and now famous, jump pass for a touchdown against LSU.

The Gators won the BCS National Championship in 2006, but Tebow wasn't the story. He would get his own title -- and MVP honors -- in January 2009, after leading the Gators over Oklahoma, 24-14, in the BCS Championship Game.

"It's been really incredible" to watch him evolve into the team leader he is today, Klutcharch said. "He's definitely come out more as a person."

Shortly after Tebow announced in January of this year that he would return for his senior season, Klutcharch and friend Amanda Lopez, 21, an accounting senior, drafted a list detailing football-related milestones they wanted to do: attending the Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville, getting TV time on ESPN's College GameDay and nabbing a picture with Tebow.

It's been mission accomplished, so far. Klutcharch's Facebook profile boasts an arm-in-arm picture with Tebow, taken before Florida's duel with Florida International University (Florida won, 62-3) on Nov. 21.The pair waited outside a Gainesville hotel for three hours in hopes of snagging pictures before Tebow boarded a team bus. Wearing an unbuttoned collar and an untied, orange-striped tie draped around his neck, Tebow consented for the camera, she said.

'This Kid Gave His Heart to Us'

"When I watch him on the television and see how he motivates his teammates, it definitely inspires me to go out and do something with my life," Klutcharch said. "If he can do it and be scrutinized by the public so much, why can't I just be myself?"

"Him representing our school, I take pride in that," Lopez said. "He's cute. He does good things. What more could you ask for?"

The last entrance of Florida's 24 senior players receiving recognition Saturday against Florida State was the most emotional. It belonged to Tebow, of course.

As the announcer called his name and thousands of fans chanted "Tebow, Tebow," he jogged onto Florida Field, his teary eyes visible to everyone thanks to a close-up of his face on giant video boards.

Tebow met coach Urban Meyer with a powerful, closed embrace before shaking hands with players and meeting his parents on the field.

The moment seemed to epitomize what Tebow wants fans to think of when they reflect on his legacy.

"Something that people can look back and say is that this kid gave his heart to us, he gave his heart to the University of Florida," Tebow told ESPN. "He gave his heart to the fans, and that every time he stepped on this field, he gave everything he possibly had. Not that he won every game, not that he was the best player, not that he won the most games or the most championships, but that he cared, and he loved us, and he left everything on this field."

Klutcharch has always admired Tebow's sincerity.

"It was cool to see how authentic he really is. It's hard for a guy to cry in front of two people, let alone 90,000 people," Klutcharch said.

"It broke my heart," she said. "It was emotional for me, too, just because I'm a senior."

But the emotion, for some, began long before senior day.

Ralph Shaw, 22, a sports management senior, said he wanted to cry when he saw Tebow take one of his last ceremonial walks to the stadium before playing Charleston Southern, the first home game of the season.

"I got choked up," he said. "It was weird."

Tebow 'Makes You Want to Be Better'

Shaw tries to emulate Tebow by going "above and beyond the normal call of duty" at his customer service internship at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the Gators' stadium. He offers to take pictures of families, walk elderly women to their seats -- little things like that to make fans' days better.

He worries that underclassmen won't get that kind of inspiration next year.

"I see myself thinking about ways to better myself," he said. "They're definitely going to miss that person that makes you want to be better."

Casey Goldstein, 19, a journalism sophomore, said she feels that Florida will be fine next year because it's not a "one-man team."

What the team will lack, she said, is Tebow's strong leadership.

Shaw thinks the undergrads will miss out on more than that.

"They're going to miss out on the emotion," he said. "Everything that comes with the emotion, just the fight and the pride."

He has learned much as a spectator to "the Tim Tebow way of living."

It will stay with him, even as No. 15 moves on.

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