Coaches have always struggled to harness Tim Tebow's abilities

The team wasn't scoring and, despite a tradition of success, it wasn't winning games. Two losses to start the season? Practically unheard of.

So the coach made a drastic change. He tore up the offensive playbook he'd been using for years and installed a new scheme. It was a spread offense that relied on the athleticism and intelligence of the quarterback.

That quarterback was Tim Tebow, although at the time everyone just called him Timmy. He was 11 years old.

"I was trying to make him fit into a system that really wasn't for him," said David Hess, who coached that Lakeshore Renegades youth team in Jacksonville, Fla. "So we designed plays just for him that we used. Then we went on a run, wound up going to the regional championship."

No one ever has denied the talents Tebow possesses. But coaches have struggled to harness Tebow's abilities throughout high school, college and in the NFL. Now the newest team to attempt to figure out how to squeeze the square-pegged quarterback into the round hole of the position as it has come to be defined is the Jets.

The advice to the Jets from coaches who found success with Tebow at the helm: Let Tim be Tim.

Craig Howard followed Hess in recognizing that. Tebow began his high school career at Trinity Christian Academy and won a state championship as a freshman. But he played nose tackle and the coach, Verlon Dorminey, saw Tebow as a linebacker and tight end because of his size.

In his book, "Through My Eyes," Tebow described it as "position by stereotype" and said he wanted to be a quarterback so much that his family -- which was home-schooling him -- rented an apartment in another area of Jacksonville just to establish a residence that allowed him to play at Nease High School. That's where Howard had just taken the job as head coach and wanted to install the spread offense.

"He wanted to be in that offense and he was the perfect quarterback to do that with," Howard said. "The program we went into was a doormat. We were playing everybody's homecoming game. And by his senior year we were state champions."

Tebow was highly recruited out of high school, but many schools wanted him to change positions.

"People would say to me, 'He can't do what he did in high school in the SEC, they're just too big and too fast (on defense),' " said Howard, who now coaches at Southern Oregon University. "I said, 'I think he can.' And he did. He's been questioned his entire life as an athlete and I don't know why."

One of those who didn't question Tebow was Dan Mullen, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Florida for Tebow's first three seasons. Together -- and with head coach Urban Meyer -- they won two national championships and a Heisman Trophy.

"Watching him on film in high school, you could see that he could do other things," said Mullen, who became head coach at Mississippi State after Tebow's junior season at Florida.

Mullen kept him at quarterback and, when Tebow was a true freshman, used him much the same way the Jets have said they plan to. Tebow would come in with his own package of plays to spell starter Chris Leak, who played the majority of the snaps that season. Florida won the national championship, beating Ohio State, 41-14, in the BCS title game. Tebow threw for a touchdown and ran for another score against the Buckeyes.

Tebow has been successful at every level at which he's played. Even last year, although he lost four of his last five starts with the Denver Broncos and they eventually opted for quarterback Peyton Manning, he helped Denver win a playoff game -- on Tebow's 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime.

It's not just his athleticism that leads to Tebow's success. He also is an inspirational leader. In a passionate speech to the media after a loss to Mississippi in September 2008, Tebow promised fans that he and the Gators would use the loss as motivation to play harder. Florida didn't lose another game that season, beating Oklahoma, 24-14, for the BCS national title.

About the only thing that Tebow hasn't accomplished is to prove he can be an every-down NFL quarterback. The Jets seem to be preparing to use him as a gimmick back at first, giving him a select number of plays and limiting his snaps. Those who know Tebow know he will embrace the role. But they also know there is more he'd like to accomplish.

"He wants to be a quarterback in the National Football League," Howard said. "I know he doesn't want to be a tight end or just a Wildcat guy, he wants to be an NFL quarterback. That's his dream, his desire, and he'll work to achieve it. At some time he'll eventually be that guy."

(Contact Tom Rock at tom.rock(at)newsday.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)

Editors: This story is for print use only. Must credit Newsday

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