GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It is July on the Florida campus, which means by the time you walk from your car to the football building you need a towel and a sweet tea. The word "languid" comes to mind. Coach Urban Meyer's office is dark, its occupant stealing the last moments of summer on a coach's calendar.
And then Tim Tebow bounds up the stairs after a noontime workout. It is July on the Florida campus, but the word "languid" never applies to Tebow. He is wearing a black Gators T-shirt, shorts, blue and orange Crocs and a summer beard.
Not that the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Tebow ever resembled a fuzzy-cheeked boy, but the beard is a subtle visual cue that one of the (already) memorable careers in the history of the game has begun its final year.
"It's gone by fast," Tebow said. "It's been a fun ride down here."
A fun ride? Two national championships wrapped around a 2007 Heisman Trophy is a hero sandwich, Gators-style. He has evolved from relief pitcher for Chris Leak to one-man backfield (32 touchdowns passing, 23 touchdowns rushing in 2007) to the more polished passer of last season. He has helped one mentor get an SEC head coaching job (Dan Mullen at Mississippi State) and welcomed another (Scot Loeffler, who recruited him to Michigan).
Tebow's value as a player -- he has passed and run for 8,427 yards and 110 touchdowns -- is surpassed only by his value as a leader. The time will come when his postgame speech after the Ole Miss loss last season will be recited daily by Florida schoolchildren.
That leadership has been needed since the Gators left Dolphin Stadium last January, crystal football in hand. Coaches who have won a national championship learn to dread the Year After and the sense of entitlement that pervades the locker room like a staph infection. Gators, have no fear. Dr. Tebow will see you now.
"When a team wins," Tebow said, "I think they get complacent." His speech raced and the pitch of his voice rose. "I think the great thing about our team is we haven't gotten complacent. We've worked so much harder than we did last year leading up to it, because we know what it takes to get there and we want to get there again. … You hear guys looking forward to two-a-days! You never hear that."
Great players can be found at the intersection of Talent and Passion. But that is an incomplete address for the Florida quarterback. He has what few 21-year-old athletes possess. He has what few 21-year-old anythings possess. Tebow has perspective.
"He's a vicious competitor, OK?" Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said. "But yet his compassion is endless. How many times have you seen that?"
Through his family's evangelism, Tebow has seen the Third World. Through his own outreach, he speaks at prisons in Central Florida. He visits local hospitals."I think more so than playing football and being a competitor and trying to win," Tebow said, "compassion and love for helping people is so much more important than any of those other qualities can ever amount to being."
"Compassion" is not a word often heard in football, unless it's the fourth quarter and Florida is pummeling Charleston Southern. It is not a trait the sport prizes. Tebow has all the traits football prizes: toughness, competitiveness, desire. None of them is first on his list.
"Just helping, being someone who, when someone needs something, you're there for them; if it's a teammate, if it's a Make-a-Wish kid, if it's someone in the hospital," Tebow said. "And not just someone who does it here and there, now and then. That's my life. That's what I want it to be. When I'm done playing football, my life isn't over."
One of a quarterback's greatest talents is the ability to see the whole field. A month before he turns 22, a month before practice begins for his final college football season, Tebow sounded as if he is able to see the whole field -- in uniform or out. "I think a good way of explaining it is football is what I do but it's not who I am," he said. "So many people get caught up in 'This is who I am. I'm a football player.' No, that's what I do. I play football and I love playing football. … I'm so much more outside of that.
"I don't want to be labeled as a football player. I want to be labeled as someone who, when someone needed something, or when someone asked me to do something, I was there for them. I was there to support them. I wanted to help them genuinely, not because it looked good or not because someone was going to write about it, but because I genuinely cared about helping someone else."
All of which led to the question: If Tebow had never played football, what would be his normal life?
"I don't really think about normal," Tebow said. "I think normal is something I never wanted to be."
There was never any danger of that. No danger at all.