04/08/2012 at 08:00 PM EDT
Tebow-mania reached new heights Easter Sunday, as thousands of worshippers descended on a central Texas town to catch a glimpse of outspoken NFL quarterback Tim Tebow
Nearly 15,000 flocked to Celebration Church in Georgetown, Texas, about 20 miles north of Austin, Sunday morning to hear the newest New York Jet
Traveling over 100 miles to get there in some cases, churchgoers gathered in fields for a music-filled outdoor service. And dozens of school buses began to arrive before sunup Sunday, with Tebow fans eager to catch a glimpse of the deeply devout Christian football star
"I only got about four hours sleep, I was so excited," Amanda O'Hara, a worshipper who arrived from San Antonio around 4:30 a.m. Sunday, told the AP
. "He doesn't hide who he is. Parents should see him as a role model."
Citing a church spokeswoman, the AP reported that Tebow recently reached out to church Pastor Joe Champion about visiting his congregation.
Easter Sunday happened to the best date for the football star, she said. "In Christianity, it's the Pope and Tebow right now," Champion told the congregation Sunday morning. "We didn't have enough room to handle the Pope."
During the service, Tebow joined the pastor on stage for a 20-minute interview. "It's OK to be outspoken about your faith," said Tebow, the son of former Baptist missionaries who became known in his college playing days for wearing Bible verses in his eyeblack.
Asked for his thoughts on what the country needs to improve, Tebow cited a line from the Pledge of Allegiance, Sports Illustrated reports
"First and foremost is what this country was based on: one nation under God," he said. "The more that we can get back to that."