As Tim Tebow grabs two 12-pound sledgehammers and tucks them under the lip of a truck tire, he looks like he's got something to prove. He's sweating through his black, sleeveless T-shirt and grimacing as he drags the tire down the length of the outdoor field at D1 Savannah, a high-end training facility for athletes. He backpedals 20 yards before dropping the hammers, then turns and sprints to midfield, ready for the next drill in his routine.
Tebow is in the midst of a metabolic conditioning circuit to prepare his body for peak performance while fatigued late in football games. He barely rests between movements, running at full speed between exercises. He does this all day. Many athletes might loaf to the next station, sucking wind while soaking up the seconds. But not Tebow.
The NFL is now a quarterback's league. Both Drew Brees and Tom Brady broke Dan Marino's single season passing yard record last year, Brees with 5,476 yards, Brady with 5,235. Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford added another 5,000+ yards, helping to compile three of the five best passing seasons in NFL history.
And yet, Tim Tebow was the league's main story—despite not possessing the traditional skill set of an NFL quarterback. Critics said his release was too slow. The Broncos ran the ball more than a triple-option college team.
In a league-wide poll, Tebow's peers voted him the NFL's most overrated player. After he led Denver to a 13-10 upset win over Chicago in Week 14, Bears LB Brian Urlacher called him "a good running back." Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith quipped that Tebow couldn't make his son's flag football team.
But somehow, it worked. The Broncos won the AFC West for the first time in six years, and Tebow led Denver to six 4th quarter comebacks, each more incredible than the last.
The most compelling player at the game's premier position perseveres in ways unbefitting elite NFL QBs. So how does Tebow, despite his critics, continue to defy football logic by winning games at the highest level of competition? Is it divine intervention, as opposing players and teammates have claimed?
No. There's no magic or mysticism to Tebow. He was built for this.
The Dawn of Tebow Time
The secret to Tebow's success is no secret at all. He's one of the hardestworking athletes in sports, and his dedication is what has put him in a position to succeed. After a session working with D1's national director of training Kurt Hester, Tebow says, "It's not about the workout, it's about the work ethic. When you have the work ethic, then you can find the right workout to fit your body and fit what you're trying to accomplish."
Tebow, already an incredible athlete at 6'3" and 245 pounds, made it his business to be in better condition than anyone on the field before last season. "I like being able to wear opposing players down, where I feel I have an advantage in the fourth quarter," he says. "That's how I like to train, to be able to feel like I have an edge, and I feel like that is my edge."
It sure is. Last season, Tebow threw for more yards in the 4th quarter than he did in the first three quarters combined. According to Hester, that has a lot to do with his training. "Once he gets into the huddle after running a play, he's recovered and can go full out and have total control of his wits," he says.
Hester knows his grueling metabolic circuit isn't something an elite athlete should complete every single day, but he also understands that given Tebow's packed schedule, he had to come up with a routine that worked within his time constraints. "To do this workout twice a week for overall conditioning," says Hester, "it's one of the best workouts you can do. [It's] pretty aggressive for this time of year, but Tebow loves to train hard."
Iron Sharpens Iron
On the Saturday night before the Broncos were to take on their AFC West rivals, the San Diego Chargers, in Week 12, Denver head coach John Fox called on his QB to deliver a pre-game message to his teammates. Tebow proclaimed a verse from Proverbs 27:17: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." The next day, he led his team to its fourth consecutive win and third 4th-quarter comeback en route to a 16-13 overtime victory.
Following the game, Broncos rookie LB sensation Von Miller was quoted as saying, "I've never seen a human who can will himself to win like that."
It would become a pattern (see timeline). NFL fans learned a long-known truth: Tebow is, always has been and always will be a winner. He gives his greatest performances in the face of adversity. And no one will outwork him.
The pillars of Tebow's success were crafted during his four-year career at the University of Florida, where his exemplary work ethic was a source of inspiration still celebrated on the Gainesville campus. Tebow graduated from UF as arguably the greatest college football player of all time. He was the first player to run for 20 TDs and pass for 20 TDs in the same year, and the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman trophy. He also led the Gators to two BCS National Championships.
Former teammate and current Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden remembers how Tebow's never-ending drive and determination during former Florida coach Urban Meyer's grueling mat drills helped motivate the team. Those off-season workouts consisted of high-intensity agility drills, most often performed indoors on wrestling mats; and they gained notoriety as some of the most challenging conditioning routines in the country.
"I remember waking up and heading to our mat drills at 4:45 a.m. We were all half asleep when we got there, but everyone showed up ready to work," Haden recalls. "That's what made us so good, sacrificing and working hard together that early in the morning. Of course we dreaded it … except for Tebow. He was always crunk and ready to go, no matter how early it was."
Tebow led that team in all ways. After losing the only game of his junior year to Ole Miss, he delivered a classic postgame speech. At the podium in front of the press, an emotional Tebow said, "I promise you one thing, a lot of good will come out of this. You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season. You will never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season. You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season. God Bless."
The Gators won the national championship that year. "The Promise" is now engraved on a plaque at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
"Make Yourself Great"
Tebow's sessions at D1 trained his footwork and mechanics. And as the season went on, he settled into more of a groove. His 80-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas to beat the Steelers in the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs showed how far he had come at the position. Still, Tebow's strength remains his pure athleticism and power. He rushed for 660 yards in 14 games, barreling through opposing linemen and linebackers like a fullback.
Tebow says, "As a football player and as an athlete, I'm someone who goes extremely hard, so I need to train extremely hard. When the opposing team and players get tired, I want to be at my peak and keep going."
Despite the notion that Tebow's religious beliefs have somehow contributed to his success in the NFL, it's hard to deny that his work ethic has impacted not only his own performance, but also the way his teammates follow his lead. "Whatever you're doing, put everything into it," he says, "Put your whole heart into it and you're going to get something out of it."
Maybe that's why Tebow sprinted from station to station. Maybe the secret to success is as simple as working as hard as you can, as often as you can. In the middle of an empty weight room with Hester looking on, Tebow knocks out set after set of Push-Ups and Pull-Ups. He doesn't seem to want to stop.
"No one is going to make you great," he says. "You have to make yourself great by how hard you push yourself in any workout. If you want to become your best, push yourself as hard as you possibly can."
Built for the 4th Quarter
Tim Tebow is at his best late in games, thanks to workouts that improve his endurance, strength and overall conditioning. Here are a few examples of how Tebow's training helped him come through when it mattered most:
Week 7 vs. Miami Dolphins Final score: 18-15
Down 15-0 late in the fourth, Tebow connects on two passing TDs in the last three minutes of regulation and runs in a two-point conversion to tie the game with 17 seconds left. In overtime, Kicker Matt Prater boots a 52-yard field goal to win it for Denver.
Week 11 vs. New York Jets Final score: 17-13
With less than six minutes remaining and backed up on his own five-yard line, Tebow marches the Broncos downfield to the Jets' 20. With 1:06 remaining, he takes a snap in the shotgun, shows his speed by beating Jets safety Eric Smith around the left edge, and displays his pure power by plowing through multiple defenders on his way into the end zone. Broncos win, 17-13.
Week 12 vs. San Diego Chargers Final score: 16-13
Tebow sets the record for most rushes by a QB in a single game with 22 carries for 67 yards against the Bolts. His 12-yard run in overtime sets up a 53-yard game-winning field goal.
Week 13 vs. Minnesota Vikings Final score: 35-32
Yet another two-point conversion on a QB keeper ties the game late in the fourth, and a Prater field goal wins the game as time expires. Tebow's talent and strength as a runner are undeniable.
Week 14 vs. Chicago Bears Final score: 13-10
The Broncos erase a 10-point deficit in the final 2:08 of regulation, with Tebow completing 18 of 24 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter and overtime. Yet another Prater field goal in OT wins it for the Broncos.
AFC Wild Card vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Final score: 29-23
Tebow leads Denver to an upset of colossal proportions, passing for a seasonhigh 316 yards on only 10 completions, none more magnificent that the electrifying 80- yard, game-winning TD pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime.
Get Tim Tebow's Late-Game Conditioning
When Tim Tebow showed up at D1 ESavannah this past off-season, weary after four days of cross country travel, coach Kurt Hester greeted him with a high-intensity conditioning circuit designed to fatigue all of the muscles in his body, while also incorporating QB skill-specific drills.
Below are some of the exercises Tebow performed under Hester's guidance. "For overall conditioning, this is one of the best workouts you can do," says Hester, D1's director of national training.
To improve your late-game performance, perform three rounds of this metabolic circuit, resting 60 seconds between rounds. As your body adapts to the workout, decrease your rest time to 30 seconds or complete an extra round of the circuit.
1. Lateral Rapid Response Drill
- In athletic position, fire feet as fast as possible while moving laterally to right
- Perform for specified distance; repeat to left side
Distance: 15 yards each direction
Coaching Points: Focus eyes straight ahead // Keep feet pointed forward //Maintain natural arm swing, driving arms forward and back at a slower speed than feet
Hester: "The rapid response work activates the central nervous system to get his feet moving fast so he's ready to move at top speed when we go into another movement pattern. Once he moves into the next drill, his feet will move faster because his body is in a ready state to move fast."
2. Sled Drives
- Starting with hands on sled and body at 45-degree angle, explode forward into sprint
Distance: 20 yards
Coaching Points: Keep hips low, back flat and head up
Hester: "He's driving from his glutes and pushing into the ground as hard as he can. The more he can get his glutes to fire when he sprints allows him to put a lot more force into the ground."
3. Drop and Sprint Forward QB Agility Drill
- Set up five agility bags two yards apart from each other
- Starting in front of first bag, assume QB pocket position with feet shoulder-width apart and rear foot staggered slightly back
- Drive off front foot to execute dropstep
- Shuffle around bag and into forward sprint
- Continue shuffling around remaining bags
Coaching Points: Keep head up and eyes downfield // Keep feet apart and always moving // Do not allow ball to drop
Hester: "We throw in the mechanical quarterback skill work with the metabolic training. He's already in a fatigued state, and he's forced to hold the ball at the right angle and position from where he throws."
4. Tire Pull With Sledgehammers
- Grasping ends of sledgehammers, explosively backpedal while keeping arms fully extended in front of body
Coaching Points: Keep core tight and body upright // Drive feet into ground underneath body
Distance: 20 yards
Hester: "It's a pulling movement that works the quads and calves. It's easier to pull with the sledgehammers, because he can stay more upright rather than having to reach down and grab the tire with his hands to pull it."
5. Vertical Barbell Complex
Assume athletic position holding barbell, and perform 6-8 reps of each exercise in the following sequence. Use weight that allows you to complete all reps with proper form. Do not go heavy!
Clean High Pull
- Keeping chest up and hips back, explode upward by fully extending hips, knees and ankles, shrugging shoulders and pulling barbell up to shoulder level in one continuous motion
- Keeping core tight, back flat and feet flat on ground, bend at waist and lower barbell down as far as flexibility allows
- Forcefully contract hamstrings and glutes to rise to start position
- Retract shoulder blades and pull barbell toward sternum by driving elbows upward
- Lower into squat position, keeping chest up and knees behind toes, and explosively drive up to start position
- Drop into quarter-squat position and immediately explode up, extending hips to push weight overhead while dropping underneath bar
Coaching Points: Grip bar slightly wider than shoulder-width // Do not rest or put bar down between exercises
Hester: "It's a metabolic upper-and-lower-body conditioning cycle that's going to activate and fatigue every muscle in his body."
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock