By: Seth Stringer, NWF Daily News
OKALOOSA ISLAND – Tim Tebow had been here before.
He was still the same wholesome, philanthropic, chiseled-from-stone athlete oozing charisma, only this time he was a 31-year-old aspiring major league ballplayer instead of a 21-year-old aspiring NFL player.
Only this time he was the Keynote Speaker instead of the Wuerffel Trophy winner.
Only this time he was the main draw, the perfect personality to ring in the 50th Annual All Sports Association Banquet on Friday at the Emerald Coast Convention Center.
And the crowd was smitten — laughter, tears, smiles. The record turnout of 1,500 spectators hung on his every word.
Sure, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Bobby Bowden and countless other lauded names had owned the banquet stage before him.
Yet making the former Heisman Trophy winner unique, making the two-time national champion at Florida memorable, was his ability to deliver such an affable speech.
What made Tebow memorable was his relatability, his approachability.
And he did, later regaling that he was once in her position in high school. He drew up a pros and cons list with his family and, based on his love for Urban Meyer, ultimately chose UF on an ESPN telecast.
But Alabama wasn’t the only school he threw shade on. There were FSU, LSU, USC and other schools, including Notre Dame — an inside joke with Wuerffel Trophy winner and Fighting Irish linebacker Drue Tranquill.
A part of that was Tranquill not being familiar with Roy Jones Jr., who Tebow fawned over in his speech.
He even had jokes for Danny Wuerffel, his role model who awarded Tebow a blue blazer earlier that night.
“Although he doesn’t look like it now,” Tebow quipped about Wuerffel, “he once was a good athlete.”
Laughter erupted mainly because of the Emerald Coast’s love for Wuerffel, a former state champion at Fort Walton Beach High, a Heisman winner and national champion at UF.
Tebow even brought up his personal life when he called out Mia Manganello, the ASA Amateur Award winner, for her speech earlier in the night.
“Mia,” asked Tebow, looking at his fiancée Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters the whole time, “why would you say it’s so hard to be married to an athlete?
“I already got her to say yes.”
Insert more laughter.
But amid all the jokes, Tebow shared an anecdote about a young man who never had his parents’ love or support. But one moment, one test score told this kid he was enough and propelled him to greatness.
“It’s amazing what the power of belief will do,” Tebow said.
That purpose and that validation, Tebow referenced, is what the ASA provides continually to the Emerald Coast.
Through the recognition of local athletes. And through its commitment to raising funds for charities and organizations.
“Changing the lives around you, that’s what I’m most proud of what this organization does,” Tebow said.
And, once again, that’s what the banquet night belonged to.
The ASA outdid itself with $35,000 payouts to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Emerald Coast, the Okaloosa County chapter of Special Olympics, the Eleanor J. Johnson Youth Center and the Okaloosa/Walton County Fellowship of Christian Athletes. That doesn’t include the countless donations to other efforts, including five Bay County schools that needed help to revive their softball and baseball programs.
“It’s why we do what we do,” ASA President Lee Lewis said.
And it’s why the ASA can draw in names like Tebow.
“When you transcend sports and transcend what you do, that is a life well-lived,” Tebow closed with. “That is true success.”