GAINESVILLE, Fla. - At Southeastern Conference media days in July, Florida coach Urban Meyer joked about all the questions surrounding quarterback Tim Tebow.
"We're going to run the ball every play this year," Meyer said. "Tim can't throw. Yeah, tell all the other teams in the league that, too."
Five months later, Tebow has proved to be much more than passable as a passer. He's become the best player in college football.
The Florida star won AP Player of the Year honors yesterday in a vote that was similar to the one that made him the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy.
"That's cool," Tebow said. "Again, it's a huge honor. It's a cool thing. Any time you're honored for an individual award, it goes back to the team. Without those guys and their support, you can't accomplish something like that on your own."
Tebow received 31 of a possible 58 votes from AP poll voters. Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, the Heisman runner-up, received 19 votes, and Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan was third with four votes.
Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon received three votes and West Virginia quarterback Pat White received one vote.
Tebow became the first player in major college history to run for at least 20 touchdowns and throw 20 TD passes in the same season. He accounted for 51 touchdowns, including a Southeastern Conference record 22 rushing, and set a school record with 3,970 yards of total offense. He also was the second-rated quarterback in the country, completing 68 percent of his throws for 3,132 yards.
"You don't want to just take the credit," Tebow said. "You have to share the credit. I just do the easy part."
Although Meyer gets most of the credit for Tebow's success - Meyer handpicked Tebow to run Florida's spread-option offense, threw him into the mix as a freshman and then turned him loose as a sophomore - offensive coordinator Mullen did even more to help Tebow shatter records and make history this season.
Mullen retooled Tebow's mechanics, rewired his brain to make him think throw first, run second, and then revamped the offense to showcase Tebow's abilities.
Tebow was rewarded with the Heisman Trophy and several other prestigious awards. Along the way, he developed a strong relationship with Mullen.
"He's helped me out a lot," Tebow said. "He's a very knowledgeable person about everything, not just football, about life and politics and stuff like that. You learn a lot of things from him. He does a great job explaining things to me. Our relationship has really grown over the course of this year."
It took off in the spring, when Tebow was getting most of the repetitions and pretty much all of Mullen's attention.
When Tebow endured shoulder pain, he turned to Mullen.
When Tebow needed to overhaul his throwing motion, he asked Mullen to direct the changes.
When Tebow had questions or concerns about Florida's offense or opposing defenses, he sought out Mullen.
Tebow never had to go very far, either.
"I spend more time with him than his wife does," Tebow said.
After Mullen spent his first two seasons mostly tutoring Chris Leak, having Tebow as his center of attention was quite a change. Tebow is much more outgoing and way more talkative than Leak. Tebow's demeanor helped foster a strong bond with Mullen that even included some friendly banter.
"We kind of knock each other down a couple of levels fast," Mullen said. "I'll say, 'Boy, did you see Pat White run? Or Dennis Dixon? And they're not as big as you and they run really hard and physical.' Tim's so competitive and he wants to be good. He can kind of laugh at all those things."
Mullen also drops "Tebowisms" on his student at times - Mullen first told the quarterback about this one: Tim Tebow can believe it's not butter - trying to keep things light.
"If he's dropping I yell and scream at him," Mullen said. "If he's on his game, you just coach him. If he's kind of tight, you try to loosen him up. The relationship between the two of us has grown to where we know how to deal with each other.
"I'm pretty hard on him. He doesn't get a ton of pats on the back from me. After the game, I'll give him a big hug and congratulate him. But during practice and the game and watching film, I'm very critical and expect perfection out of him."
This season, Tebow has come close to living up to his coach's expectations.
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