By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Brandon Spikes is obsessed with being tough.
Those aren't just words inspired by the horrific video replayed over and over on television and YouTube the last few days, showing the menacing Florida linebacker gouging the eyes of a Georgia player.
YOUR THOUGHTS: Does Spikes' Self-Punishment Make Meyer Look Bad?
But those are the words of Gators strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti.
I spoke to Marotti on Thursday, two days before Spikes was caught on camera gouging the eyes of a Georgia running back during Saturday's 41-17 thrashing of the Bulldogs.
Coach Urban Meyer had a problem with Spikes' act, so he suspended him. For the first half of the Vandy game this Saturday. That's a pretty weak punishment. If you think there's something wrong, suspend him for a game, not a portion of a game.
Have you ever seen a pitcher accused of throwing at a batter earn a four-inning suspension? Or a basketball player who left the bench during a brawl get docked half a game's pay?
My conversation with Marotti (pictured, right), however, had more to do with who you wouldn't expect to be the weight room demon in Gainesville. Maybe you've heard of this guy.
Tim Tebow is a nice kid and an accomplished young man. Take away his football achievements and his potential to play professionally and earn millions of dollars, and his remains a life worth emulating.
Most college football fans outside Florida hate Tebow, largely because he's so likeable. He's a good kid, he's publicly proclaimed his purity, he's a team leader, gets along with his coaches and teammates, performs the occasional surgery on, yawn, goodwill trips to the Philippines and, ho-hum, pitches his religion to convicted felons when he visits penitentiaries.
I probably don't even know that he donates his time to animal-rescue centers or something like that.
Anyway, such words hardly describe a young athlete who also seems to have a chip on his shoulder and feels the need to prove something every time he competes.
But that's what you get with Tebow, and nothing less, Marotti said.
"Tim's probably the most competitive, determined athlete I've ever worked with," said the coach. "He's a guy that always has something to prove."
Marotti is an old friend of mine, and I was hoping to pick his brain about Spikes, figuring the 6-foot-4, 260-pound giant ruled the weight room. Not that Spikes isn't a gym rat -- and we'll get to him and others in a minute -- but Marotti couldn't help but pour the praise on the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner.
"No matter how miniscule a drill might be, everyone will work hard, but Tim takes it to another level," Marotti says. "Like running the stadium steps. Some guys will go hard and try to push the group. Tim just takes off and wants to finish first."
It seems that No. 15 is out to prove that nice guys can finish first, even on game day.
"When he's carrying the ball, getting close to the sideline, why not just go out of bounds?" Marotti asked. "He wants to run people over and prove he's tougher than the other guy. It's almost like he's not real. He's the toughest guy I've been around."
If you were to meet Tebow in a dark alley, or shoot, at the bingo parlor, you better hope he doesn't have Spikes with him. In pads and out on the field, Spikes is a man among Lilliputians. His presence is just as noteworthy in the weight room.
"These days we look at people as energy givers and energy takers," Marotti said. "Brandon's an energy giver. He's very influential. He's got a lot of juice going, a lot of excitement and passion."
Despite Spikes' size, he covers the field with great athleticism. Many expect him to be the first inside linebacker taken in next spring's NFL draft.
"Brandon's a big dude," Marotti said. "He's pretty athletic, and he's got great feet. He's also very confident and passionate about the game of football. He loves practice, he loves the smell of the grass. He loves his cleats. He loves everything about the game."
Marotti worked the same gig at Cincinnati and Notre Dame prior to Florida. He said linebacker Nate Dingle was probably his toughest baller at UC and center Jeff Faine, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, would "fight guys in practice every day" when Marotti worked at Notre Dame.
"(Tough guys) are all the same in that they're all different," Marotti said. "They're workout freaks, they're wired differently and they obsess about training and preparing. They're obsessed with getting better. And about being tough."