The couple strolled along the property, and stopped next to a small lake, where Tebow had installed an arbor and a specially made bench that was engraved with the date the couple first met.
For about five minutes, Tebow and Nel-Peters talked about their relationship and its future in hushed tones before Tebow, 31, dropped to one knee. “Demi Leigh Nel-Peters, I love you,” he said. “Demi Leigh Nel-Peters, will you marry me?”
As Nel-Peters said yes, Tebow slipped a 7.25-carat solitaire ring on her finger. “This ring is internally flawless,” he said. “Just like you.”
Then Tebow had another surprise. South African singer Matthew Mole stepped out from behind a hay bale and serenaded the couple with “The Wedding Song,” one of their favorite songs.
The proposal was a family affair. Tebow had secretly flown Nel-Peters’ family and closest friends from South Africa to Florida to witness the engagement. His parents, siblings and friends were also on hand for the exciting moment. The invitees watched the proposal from a distance and out of view from Nel-Peters — who didn’t suspect a thing.
“I actually wasn’t really nervous,” Tebow tells PEOPLE. “I was excited. I wanted everything to be perfect and to go smoothly. But I wasn’t nervous to actually ask her.”
A night of surprises
Tebow wanted to make sure every detail was perfect — and he went through great lengths to surprise Nel-Peters. He told her that they would be having a belated Christmas dinner with his family.
Concerned that she would sense his excitement and suspect that something was up, Tebow tells PEOPLE he came up with a cover story: he told her that he was presenting his father with a brand new truck. (He even borrowed a truck from a dealership and put a big bow on it to sell his story.)
After the engagement, the couple’s friends and family came out of hiding to the shock of Nel-Peters, who had no idea that her family and friends had flown halfway around the globe to attend the engagement party.
The couple’s inner circle then had dinner at a Jacksonville club, while family and friends made speeches and toasts. Nel-Peters’ father encouraged everyone to “make a circle” around Tebow and Nel-Peters and pray for their new life together.
In a lighthearted moment, Tebow forgot to hand the microphone to Nel-Peters to make a speech. “I just made my first mistake as a fiancé,” he joked.
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During her speech, Nel-Peters, 23, jokingly apologized to Tebow’s father. “I’m sorry you didn’t get a new truck,” she said, “but you’re getting a new daughter!”
Tebow tells PEOPLE that he’s looking forward to planning the wedding. “I’m sure she’s got some great ideas,” he says. “It’s going to be really exciting, and I can’t wait.”
Adds Nel-Peters: “I’m so excited for the wedding, and I can’t wait to spend forever with Tim.”
Years of searching
Over the years, Tebow has opened up several times to PEOPLE about his search for love.
“I’m looking, but I just can’t seem to find anyone,” he told PEOPLE in spring 2017. “I don’t want to be single; I’m ready to settle down and start a family. I want to have kids. I have so many things I want. No one will be happier than me when I finally find the right person.”
“I’m just looking for someone who has a good heart,” he added at the time. “They have to be kind, and they have to care about people who can’t do anything for them in return.”
“They have to really love God,” he continued. “My faith is important to me — it’s the most important thing — and I need to be with someone who also shares that faith.”
Tebow tells PEOPLE, now, that Nel-Peters is exactly what he has been looking for. “She’s just perfect for me,” he says. “I’m really blessed to have her by my side for the rest of my life.”