GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Growing up in northeastern Ohio, Austin Appleby started out as an Ohio State Buckeyes fan before being swayed as a child to switch his allegiance to the Florida Gators.
This was long before he ever knew that his own collegiate path would one day lead him to Gainesville.
Call it another example of the power of Tim Tebow.
Appleby became a fan of the Gators’ former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at an early age and now will make his first start at the same position for No. 19 Florida on Saturday afternoon at No. 14 Tennessee while filling in for injured starting quarterback Luke Del Rio.
“I’ve dreamed about being a Gator since I was a little kid,” Appleby said Monday. “Even coming from Ohio, I was always a Gator fan. Tim Tebow was my idol, (like) many kids probably at that time. I wore No. 15 in high school and I came down here as a sophomore in high school for a camp back when Urban Meyer was coaching and just fell in love with the place. It’s really, really neat that I had an opportunity to come back and I couldn’t pass it up.”
Appleby, who joined Florida this year as a graduate transfer from Purdue, said he was swayed by Tebow after watching the 2006 Gators defeat Ohio State for the national championship in Glendale, Ariz.
Tebow was just a freshman on that team and played behind starting quarterback Chris Leak — though he would pass for a touchdown and rush for another in the national championship game — but he already was becoming a fan favorite and left an indelible impression on Appleby.
“I was growing up a Buckeye coming from Ohio and we went to the national championship, the first one when they played the Buckeyes. And, you know, I went as a Buckeye, and little did I know when I left that place that this 15 guy, he left an impact on me,” Appleby said. “And the more that I learned about him, the more I wanted to be like him and model myself after him. Ever since then I’ve been a Gator.”
Well, technically he was a Purdue Boilermaker for four years before getting his release at the end of last season.
Appleby made 11 starts and played in 17 games overall at Purdue, passing for 2,777 yards, 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in his time there.
As a graduate transfer, he was eligible to play immediately at another program and chose to follow his connection with the Gators all the way to a spot on the roster here in Gainesville.
Now he has an opportunity as Florida’s starting quarterback for however long Del Rio is sidelined.