April 15, 2024

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida will turn to one of its greatest players for help before facing rival and fifth-ranked Florida State on Saturday.

The Gators, the National Football Foundation and the College Hall of Fame will jointly honor 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow in the Swamp at the end of the first quarter. Coach Billy Napier, meanwhile, has asked Tebow to speak to his struggling team in the locker room beforehand.

“I’m always open to always talking to the team,” Tebow said during a Zoom call Friday. “I just would always want them to know first that it’s never about me. Saturday isn’t about me. It’s about them.

“It’s an amazing opportunity, and it’s something that if they can harness three hours of excellence, they will have a chance to be one of the more remembered Gator teams because they get a chance to knock off an undefeated FSU team. That doesn’t happen all the time.”

Tebow, a member of the 2023 College Football Hall of Fame class that will be inducted on Dec. 5 in Las Vegas, went 4-0 against the Seminoles during his four seasons in Gainesville, and the three games that Tebow started were lopsided victories. Tebow developed a reputation for being a fiery leader and usually showed his emotions in the locker room, on the sidelines and in the huddle.

He grew up in nearby Jacksonville rooting for the Gators and remains a huge fan while serving as a college football analyst for ESPN.

The Gators (5-6) already had plenty to play for against the Seminoles (11-0) before Tebow was added to the mix. They need to end a four-game skid to become bowl eligible, have a chance to knock FSU out of contention for the College Football Playoff, will honor 18 seniors before the game and are trying to defend their home field at night in front of a sellout crowd.

Tebow, though, should take it up a notch. He set more than two dozen school records during his career and led Florida to 22 consecutive victories between 2007 and 2009, a school-record winning streak.

He was added to the school’s ring of honor in 2018 and inducted into the university’s Hall of Fame two years later. His bronze statue stands outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium along with those of Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel.

Few players have the same outlook on the often-heated, in-state series that’s played a role in several national titles.

“Every year growing up, we would watch the game, and if we won, it was — ask my parents — arguably the best day of the year,” Tebow said. “And if we lost, it was mortifying. I would lose perspective and it felt like the world was ending. I begged them to let me not go to church on Sunday because I couldn’t handle the FSU fans. It was always bigger than a game.”

Tebow said the Swamp’s home-field advantage “has to factor in the game” considering the Seminoles are turning to backup quarterback Tate Rodemaker to replace injured star Jordan Travis.

“It can be a very intimidating place,” Tebow said. “For Gator nation, I hope that it is.”

He also offered some advice for Florida quarterback Max Brown, who is making his first start in place of the injured Graham Mertz.

“Embrace the moment,” Tebow said. “When I say that, I kind of mean don’t shy away from it. When you have the opportunities, let it rip. Be aggressive.”

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