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CHARLOTTE — Health issues and the desire to spend more time with his family caused Urban Meyer to take a temporary leave of absence from Florida once, after the Gators' 2009 season. Twelve months later, citing the same concerns, Meyer announced his decision to permanently leave the program he led to two national championships — but not before calling and speaking with Tim Tebow.

Three years later, with his NFL career in flux and a television opportunity in play, Tebow called Meyer.

The two spoke often as Tebow waffled between the most difficult decision of his career: Whether to leave football behind — as a quarterback, at least — and join ESPN, which was offering the former Heisman Trophy winner the chance to join its fledgling SEC Network.

Meyer, who spent his one season out of coaching as an ESPN analyst, preached the positives of television. You get to work with people you like, he told Tebow. You get to be around your family. You can do the things that are important to you. More than anything, you can stay with the game — not as a player, not as a coach, but close enough.

"Obviously we both love the game," Tebow told USA TODAY Sports from SEC Network headquarters in Charlotte. "You always want to be a part of it."

His new role in football keeps perhaps the most discussed, scrutinized and nitpicked quarterback of his generation in front of the camera, but from a different perspective: Tebow will move into television as part of the SEC Network, which debuts at 6 p.m. Eastern on Aug. 14. He will be available in more than 90 million homes, thanks to pre-launch agreements with some of the nation's largest cable providers.

Tebow will serve as one of the primary analysts on SEC Nation, a traveling pregame show similar to ESPN's popular College GameDay in every way but one: SEC Nation will air only from Southeastern Conference venues, beginning with a trip to Columbia, S.C., for South Carolina and Texas A&M on Aug. 28.

He is, by all accounts, the brightest star in ESPN's new SEC universe.

"I don't know what his ceiling is or if he even has a ceiling," SEC Network coordinating producer Brett Austin said of Tebow. "His depth of knowledge and his passion — kind of where he comes from — it's amazing. It really is. He's dialed in from day one.

"He's prepared. He's passionate. He's been there, done that."

He's no longer a quarterback, though dreams die hard. Tebow lasted until the final cut of training camp before being released by the New England Patriots last August, essentially ending an NFL career that began with the Denver Broncos — where he tasted his only professional success — continued with a failed one-year stint with the New York Jets and never got off the ground with the Patriots.

"He gave us, and me personally, everything he had. I'll forever be grateful for what he did as a Bronco," Denver head coach John Fox said. "I just know he did a great job for us when he was here."

Tebow still works out six days a week; he still throws four days a week, following the lessons of his quarterback guru, California-based Tom House. Asked if he's a better quarterback today than at this point a year ago, Tebow nods, confident, and says, "By far."

For now, and perhaps for the foreseeable future, Tebow will have to balance his desire to continue his NFL career with the opportunity granted by a high-profile transition into television.

"I don't know what the future holds," Tebow said. "You never know. I know that I'm super happy doing this. I know I love training, I love playing ball, but this is a great opportunity."

But television isn't a substitute for football, he said, but a "blessing."

"It's important to me to as an analyst to really study and prepare, just like a player, and really know what I'm talking about," Tebow said. "The viewers deserve that, ESPN deserves that, the SEC Network deserves that, and I feel like that's just how I carry myself. I want to do a good job. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. I'm a believer in that. I want to be the best at this that I can be."

Contributing: Lindsay H. Jones

GALLERY: TIM TEBOW'S CAREER IN PICTURES

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