A Recruiting Moment takes a look back in time to a moment in recruiting news where both the Florida Gators and their opponent of the week – Alabama this time around – were major players.
It seemed hard to believe star high school quarterback Tim Tebow would end up anywhere other than the University of Florida. He grew up in an orange and blue family as the son of Bull Gators and played his high school ball only a few hours away from Gainesville. Many believed he was destined to become the next great Gator quarterback. But among the other schools that wanted Tebow to suit up for them, one in particular fought until the very end. That school was Alabama.
Mike Shula had begun a turnaround in Tuscaloosa. His first season with the Crimson Tide in 2003 was a rough one: 'Bama finished 4-9. But Shula would grab two more wins the following season to finish 6-6, and took the Tide to 10-2 in 2005 (for now, we’ll ignore the fact that those 10 wins were later vacated). With what seemed to be a bright future ahead for Alabama, Shula set his sights on Nease High School product Tim Tebow, one of the nation's finest quarterbacks. Tebow would be a battle for Shula, though, as Urban Meyer and Florida also saw a great future for the highly-touted prospect.
Tebow made it clear that he planned to enroll early wherever he would end up. Due to that, his recruitment would be cut short and schools had to do their best to convince him before his December 13, 2005 announcement that they were the best fit.
With Meyer installing a version of the spread offense in Gainesville, Florida seemed the logical choice. While Tebow passed for over 7,600 yards his final two seasons in high school, he also rushed for over 2,300. It was clear Tebow was a dual-threat QB, and his size meant he’d be able to become a power runner at the next level. Meyer’s offense looked plenty appealing to the top recruit, but Shula wouldn’t give up.
Over the course of his recruitment, Tebow developed a bond with Shula – one that made the decision much tougher than it was thought to have been. He had a great time with the Bama coaching staff and loved everything about the school and game day environment. He even had this to say after Alabama’s 31-3 dismantling of Florida, a game he was present for:
"It was very exciting and I had a good time. Alabama has a great team and so does Florida but I don’t think anyone expected the game to be like it was. I didn’t expect a blowout either, so that surprised me but not really because I know how good Alabama was…Their fans seemed to know me and were yelling for me to come to Alabama. I didn’t know it would be like that. It was a good feeling because it made me feel wanted there. I’ve had people recognize me before but never like that."
Two months later, Tebow would make his decision and ... well, you know how that played out. When Tebow chose to attend Florida, it wasn’t much of a surprise, but it was closer than expected. Tebow went with his heart and the school he had been drawn to for quite some time. Alabama lost out, but the decision was tougher than thought for the young quarterback. His bond with Shula weighed heavily on him and he could envision himself putting on a Tide uniform. Fortunately for us, the visions of himself in orange and blue were clearer.
The rest of the story for Tebow’s college career is already written. Florida would put together one of the finest recruiting classes ever in 2006, and, over the next three seasons, would win two national championships. Alabama didn’t fare too badly in the end, and would hand Tebow his final college loss to, but its success didn’t come with Shula at the helm. While the Gators were busy going 13-1 and winning a title in 2006, the Tide fell to 6-6 and Shula would find himself without a job, paving the way for Nick Saban to come to Tuscaloosa and transform the Tide.
One player can’t make a program, but he sure can have an influence. Things might have been very different if Tebow had selected Bama on that December day. Luckily, we don’t have memories of that scenario playing out, just hypothetical daydreams that never turned into nightmares.