Kelly Kline / Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) – Tim Tebow took a few deep breaths, steadied himself, then plowed through his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech much the same way he takes on tacklers â€” fast and furious.
In rapid fire, Floridaâ€™s sophomore quarterback thanked everyone he could think of, some of them twice.
When it came time to take hold of the 25-pound bronze statue, he looked as if he wasnâ€™t sure whether he should run with the prize or throw it. He does both so well.
Floridaâ€™s folk-hero quarterback with the rugged running style and magnetic personality became the first sophomore to win the Heisman on Saturday night.
â€œI am fortunate, fortunate for a lot of things,â€ Tebow said. â€œGod truly blessed me and this just adds on. Itâ€™s an honor. Iâ€™m so happy to be here.â€
Since 1935, when Jay Berwanger of Chicago won the first Heisman, every winner had been a junior or senior â€” until Tebow, who picked up quite a souvenir on his first trip to New York.
â€œItâ€™s surreal a little bit,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s just overwhelming.â€
He beat out Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, the first player since 1949 to finish second in consecutive seasons.
Tebow received 1,957 points and 462 first-place votes to McFaddenâ€™s 1,703 points and 291 first-place votes.
â€œI think itâ€™s awesome youâ€™re known forever as a Heisman Trophy winner,â€ Tebow said.
Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan was third, and Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel fourth.
A year after Tebow helped Florida win a national title, and in his first season as the Gatorsâ€™ starter, the chiseled 235-pound quarterback in a fullbackâ€™s body put together a historic campaign.
Heâ€™s the first major college player to run for 20 touchdowns and throw 20 TD passes in the same season.
Tebow had both his parents and all four siblings with him in New York. Mom and Dad got hugs after his name was called.
â€œIt was cool to have them all there,â€ Tebow said. â€œI havenâ€™t had a chance to hug them all yet but I am looking forward to that.â€
In an unpredictable college football season, the Heisman race was as unsettled as the national title chase. Tebow emerged as the front-runner even though Florida (9-3) stumbled early.
Six of the last seven Heisman winners picked up their bronze statues on the way to playing in the national championship game.
Tebow wonâ€™t get that chance this season, but Heisman voters didnâ€™t hold Floridaâ€™s failure to defend its national title against him.
McFadden slumped in October before finishing with a huge November, capping his season with a spectacular performance â€” 206 yards rushing, three touchdowns and a TD pass â€” in the Razorbacksâ€™ 50-48 triple-overtime win over No. 1 LSU.
It seems doubtful the junior with sprinterâ€™s speed will return to Arkansas next year to make another run at the Heisman. Not with some NFL team likely to make him a top-10 draft pick.
â€œIâ€™m just proud to be here again,â€ McFadden said.
Brennan and Daniel each passed for over 4,000 yards and led their teams to breakout seasons.
But no player was more important to his team than Tebow.
The closest he came to a bad game came in a 28-24 loss at LSU, when he completed 12 of 26 passes for 158 yards, throwing for two scores and running for another.
He finished with a school-record 3,970 yards of total offense and accounted for 51 touchdowns.
Simply put, heâ€™s the perfect quarterback for coach Urban Meyerâ€™s spread-option offense.
â€œIâ€™ve heard the word system. Iâ€™ve got news, thatâ€™s got nothing to do with Heisman trophies and great offenses,â€ Meyer said. â€œTim Tebow can run whatever offense he needs to run.â€
Florida fans might argue Tebow is just plain perfect.
Tebowisms have become all the rage with Gators fans on the Internet. A sampling: Superman wears Tim Tebow pajamas. Tim Tebow has counted to infinity … twice. Tim Tebow ordered a Big Mac at Burger King, and got one.
And if joining Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel as the only Florida players to win the Heisman Trophy wasnâ€™t enough to make Tebow the most popular man in Gainesville, thereâ€™s one more reason for Gators fans to be excited: the promise of two more years of Tebow, who has said he has no plans to leave school after his junior season.
Tebow idolized Wuerffel, and the former Gator was the first Heisman winner the new member of the club hugged when he went to accept the trophy.
â€œThat was special,â€ Tebow said. â€œHe was a big role model for me growing up.â€
The legend of Tebow started at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where he once finished a game playing on a broken leg.
Homeschooled by missionary parents who run an orphanage in the Philippines, Tebow took advantage of a Florida state law to play for Nease, about 90 miles from the University of Florida campus.
Tebow has worked and preached at his parentsâ€™ orphanage since he was 15. He regularly speaks at schools and delivered his message of faith at a prison in Florida earlier this year.
â€œTim Tebow is the real American hero,â€ said Tebowâ€s high school football coach, Craig Howard. â€œHeâ€™s the real deal.â€
Tebow arrived in Gainesville with superstar status, and Gators fans could hardly wait to see their quarterback of the future.
In a part-time role as a complement to Chris Leak, Tebow played with a fiery passion. He bowled over defenders and bounced around the field, fists pumping and arms waving.
He ran for 469 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman, throwing only enough to take advantage of defenses stacked to stop him from running.
This season, the Gators became Tebowâ€™s team and at times he was a one-man offense.
He completed 68 percent of his attempts for 3,132 yards and 29 touchdowns and continued to run with reckless abandon, even while playing the second half of the season with a very sore shoulder.
Compensating for the Gatorsâ€™ lack of a reliable tailback, Tebow led Florida with 838 yards rushing and set a Southeastern Conference record with 22 touchdowns.
With speed and a strong arm to go with his power and grit, Tebow is part throwback to the days of single-wing football and part 21st century prototype for the position.
Add winning the Heisman as a sophomore, and Tebow is truly one of a kind.
— Ralph D. Russo, Associated Press Writer