Editor's Note: This is the last of a five-part series as we reveal who a six-man alligatorSports panel has voted as the Top 10 UF Athletes of 2008-09.
Nelson rewrites record books en route to WCWS championship series
By ADAM BERRY, Alligator Staff Writer
Stacey Nelson did not receive the national recognition Tim Tebow did, but she may have been better at her sport than any other athlete in Gainesville.
Nelson led the Gators to two straight Women's College World Series appearances, falling just short this year in the championship series against Washington.
Her relaxed, humble attitude off the field was matched only by her intensity and dominance once she stepped into the circle. With 41 wins on the year, Nelson led the Gators to a 63-5 record and a No. 1 ranking for most of the season.
Nelson was so instrumental in making the Gators softball program a national-championship contender that coach Tim Walton said she, along with senior Kim Waleszonia, will be honored even after their four outstanding years on the field.
"As long as I coach here, you won't ever see a No. 5 (Waleszonia), you won't ever see a No. 42 (Nelson) on anybody else's back," Walton said. "We don't really retire numbers, but they won't be worn as long as I'm the coach here at the University of Florida."
After a wildly successful junior year and a run to the school's first WCWS, Nelson faced high expectations entering her senior year &ndash maybe even the possibility that the miraculous 70-5 season in 2008 couldn't be topped.
But just as UF kept winning in record-breaking fashion, Nelson continued to improve as a pitcher and as a leader.
In 2008, Nelson joked that no-hitters might not be her thing - the one accomplishment a pitcher who had seemingly done it all could not yet add to her list. In 2009, Nelson threw two of them. She also became the first Gator to strike out 1,000 batters and holds nearly every pitching mark in the UF record books.
With that kind of success, it's easy to assume the California native would be very aware of her stats and each record she's broken. But not Nelson, who won the 2009 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award for her notable achievements on and off the field.
"I really don't (keep track of my numbers)," Nelson said. "People don't believe me when I say I don't know my stats, but I really don't."
Even the list of accolades Nelson earned near the end of and after her final season is remarkable. In addition to the Senior CLASS Award, she was a top-three finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, earned first-team All-America honors from two different organizations and, perhaps most impressively, was selected as one of five pitchers on the USA Softball Women's National Team.
For dominating the competition throughout the season and during her entire career, as well as staking her claim as the best pitcher in program history, Stacey Nelson is the alligatorSports No. 2 UF Athlete of 2008-09.
BY THE NUMBERS: Nelson is the second athlete to receive a vote from all six panelists. She received four second-place votes, one third-place vote and onefourth-place vote.
Tebow's words backed up with national championship
By PHIL KEGLER, Alligator Staff Writer
In 107 words, Tim Tebow went from hyped hero to living legend.
"To the fans and everybody in Gator Nation, I'm sorry. I'm extremely sorry. We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida has never done here.
"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 his 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.
Tebow has made plenty of big plays &ndash most notably his fourth-and-1 conversion at Tennessee in 2006 and his entire record-setting Heisman-winning campaign of 2007 &ndash but now he had failed in the unlikeliest of moments.
The Gators had been upset. At home. Against an unranked Mississippi team. Having failed on a final fourth-and-1, the spot where Tebow had been seen as automatic.
But when he looked at his worst, he was actually at his best. His words became a rallying cry for teammates and fans.
These words would have rung hollow had the Gators not responded the way they did. UF won its remaining 10 games by double digits, including eight by 28 points or more.
And this is why Tebow was unanimously picked as our top UF athlete for last year.
In his junior season, he ran a prolific offense that averaged 43.6 points per game while once again leading the Gators in passing and rushing yards and totaling 42 touchdowns.
Tebow fell short in his quest for a second straight Heisman Trophy, finishing third, but earned more first-place votes than winner Sam Bradford and runner-up Colt McCoy.
But he was at his best during the team's two biggest games.
The Jacksonville native earned BCS Most Outstanding Offensive Player honors after throwing for 231 yards and two touchdowns and adding 109 yards on the ground.
This came a month after Tebow earned Southeastern Conference Championship MVP honors with 14 of 22, 216 passing yards and 57 rushing yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper on a slant that sealed the game with 2:50 remaining.
"I've had some great players, and I've got some great players on this team," UF coach Urban Meyer said after the game. "But I've never had one like this. Tim's got something special inside him. I'm not talking about throwing. I'm not talking about running. I'm talking about making everyone around him better. That fourth quarter was vintage Tim Tebow."
He made an otherwise boring national championship celebration inside The Swamp immediately newsworthy with his drawn-out, climactic announcement:
"…Oh and by the way, one more thing &ndash let's do it again. I'm coming back!"
After living up to this year's promise, it's hard to doubt his next one.
For his near-miraculous leadership in leading the Gators to their second national championship in three years while solidifying his place as one of the best college football players of all time, Tim Tebow is the alligatorSports No. 1 UF Athlete of 2008-09.