Anyone who has spent any time around this 6-3, 225-pound man-child of a quarterback will tell you that nothing Tim Tebow does is a surprise. When they speak of his future, there isn't a single dissenting vote to be found. They all believe Tebow is destined for greatness at his next stop, the University of Florida.
When Tebow arrives in Gainesville to start classes at the University of Florida, whether it is in January to get a head start toward learning the offense or July with the bulk of the incoming freshmen, he will be the most heralded and talked about Gator recruit since that Smith fellow from Pensacola back in 1987. When Emmitt arrived on campus there was an air of expectation, an almost electric presence from day one. About the only one who didn't expect greatness from Emmitt was the village idiot of recruiting gurus, Max Emfinger, who trashed Florida for signing a tailback who would be nothing but a "plugger."
There will be at least the same level of electricity in the air as we saw with Emmitt and because he is a quarterback, the expectations will be far greater for Tebow than they ever were for number 22. Emmitt spent three years at Florida facing stacked defenses, handicapped his last two years by the "Amedeeville Horror of 1988" and the Sesame Street like simplicity of Whitey Jordan's 1989 joke of an offense. Offensive coordinator Lynn Amedee believed Emmit would best serve the Florida offense as a decoy. Whitey's idea of wide open was a three-yard pass on third and eight. NCAA sanctions that affected Florida's depth chart and the lack of offensive imagination made it impossible for Gator fans to imagine a national championship in Emmitt's years although it was indeed electric. Everyone in the stadium including the opposing team was aware that he was going to carry the ball but Emmitt Smith made every play an adventure worth watching.
Because the success of the Meyer offense is predicated by the quarterback, Tebow will be every bit as high profile as the expectations and the expectations at Florida are always the same: to compete for SEC and national championships. Anything less is considered unacceptable by Meyer and the entire Gator Nation.
Tebow won't be expected to take the Gators to the Promised Land right away and that is a good thing. Chris Leak will be around for his fourth year as the starting quarterback so that will give Tebow a full year before the championship expectations kick in full force. For 2006, the weight of championship expectations will be squarely on Leak's shoulders.
In all the hoopla surrounding Tebow's commitment to Florida, we tend to overlook the fact that the Gator Nation was doing backflips three years ago when Leak announced for the Gators at the US Army All-American Game in San Antonio. Leak was a record setter, a four-time state champion from North Carolina, groomed from the time he could walk and talk to be a quarterback by a father who played college and pro football. He came to Florida heralded as a future Heisman Trophy winner and one who would lead the Gators to their first national title since 1996. Midway through his true freshman year, he became Florida's starter and he's held the job ever since. He's played himself into a full-fledged assault on all the Florida passing records but he doesn't have a single championship to show for his efforts.
In this past season, Meyer's first year as Florida's coach, Leak had his share of struggles running the offense so there is a tendency by many to write Chris off as a bust, a proverbial square peg who will never fit into the round hole that is this spread option offense. Perhaps those who write him off should be required to watch tapes of Bowling Green and Utah, Meyer's previous two stops before Florida. In their first year running the Meyer offense, both Josh Harris and Alex Smith struggled mightily and in ways that are remarkably similar to how Leak struggled in his first year pulling the trigger. At Bowling Green the offense was tweaked to fit Harris and it worked. At Utah, it was tweaked again to fit Smith and it worked. Yet because the offense was tweaked during the past season to fit Leak, few are willing to say it will work well in 2006.
It isn't unreasonable, however, to expect the same sort of second year results for Leak that Harris and Smith enjoyed. Leak had some moments of brilliance during the past season, a season in which fans expected peak efficiency even when he was taking the field without a fully chambered weapon because of devastating injuries to the wide receiver corps and an injury prone first team tailback. If Bubba Caldwell comes back at the same speed he showed when he broke his leg and Florida can find a consistent threat as a tailback, Leak II could be vastly superior to Leak I in the Meyer offense.
It should also be noted that Leak spent the 2005 season learning his third offense in three years and this version of the shotgun spread was vastly different than the one he learned from Ed Zaunbrecher as a freshman or the one he learned as a sophomore from Larry Fedora.
By the time Tebow hits the Florida practice field, whether it's this spring or in August, the comfort level of Chris Leak in the Meyer offense should be several notches higher. That's probably a very good thing for Tim Tebow. Probably the best thing in the world for Tebow would be for Leak to have a senior year like Alex Smith's second year running the Meyer offense. Leak's success would (1) prove to the skeptics that Meyer and his staff have an offense that will work at any level; (2) give Tebow a successful mentor during his rookie season; (3) pave the way for Tebow to take over a fully functioning offensive machine as a sophomore and (4) take tons of pressure off Tebow's wide but very young shoulders.
After the press conference that announced his commitment to the Gators on Tuesday, Tebow said he considers Leak a friend whom he expects to be an excellent mentor at Florida in 2006. He said he is eager to understudy an accomplished quarterback whom he admires both personally and for his athletic accomplishments and when he said it, no one doubted for even a second that he was completely sincere.
So you can forget any Josh Portis-like pouting from Tim if he's put into a limited role as a freshman and you won't don't have to worry that there will be any Patricia Portis-like grousing to anyone who will listen from Bob and Pam Tebow if their youngest of five children has to wait his turn. They've raised Tim to do his best, to prepare for greatness while waiting patiently for God to open doors for success at precisely the right moment. There will come a time when Tim Tebow is asked to assume the mantle and carry the weight of Florida football expectations on his shoulders. Everything about this kid tells you that when that opportunity knocks, he will be ready to answer.