January 2, 1999
By ROB GLOSTER
AP Sports Writer
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) – His Tennessee teammates and their opponents from
State, on the cusp of fulfilling boyhood dreams, exude a blend of excitement
and anxiety while counting the hours to their national championship showdown.
Quarterback Tee Martin, who will be in the spotlight during Monday
Fiesta Bowl, is calm – as always. He knows all about adversity, and
football game can approach the pressure of life’s everyday challenges.
Having survived a childhood in which he changed addresses 22 times and in
which he saw a dozen friends killed by violence or disease, Martin goes
life – and football games – with a cool detachment.
“Football is only a sport to me,” he said. “If something’s not really
life threatening, I really don’t care. I’m calm about things, I let them go,”
he said. “I have a total understanding of life.”
Martin performs with intensity on the field, but he’s not about to
teammate for dropping a pass or missing a block. And don’t expect sideline
confrontations between Martin and a coach.
“I don’t recall ever losing my temper,” he said. “I had a fight in
seventh or eighth grade. Someone was picking on me, and he had to pick on me a
lot to get me to fight.”
Volunteers linebacker Al Wilson said he has never talked with Martin
growing up, but it’s easy to tell exactly what he went through.
“You can tell by each guy’s personality what his childhood was like,”
Wilson said. “I’ve never seen Tee Martin nervous, and I think that’s one of
his biggest attributes. He’s always relaxed.”
His mother was a high school senior when Tamaurice Nigel Martin was
she moved around in search of a better life, the youngster often stayed with
his great-grandmother or grandmother.
It was a childhood punctuated by trauma. When he was a high school
he heard a noise and discovered a friend had been shot to death in a case of
mistaken identity. Such tragedies kept him from developing close friendships.
“I kind of have an even-keel attitude when it comes to friends. You go to
class one day and the next day they’re not there,” he said. “It’s something I
had to struggle with at first, but I have a total understanding of who I am
what I have to do.”
He had to draw on every ounce of that understanding, and plenty of
while throwing just 16 passes during his first two seasons at Tennessee as the
backup to Peyton Manning.
This season, the junior has led the top-ranked Vols to a 12-0 record
throwing for 2,164 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also has run for 287 yards and
another seven scores.
Martin has thrown just two interceptions in his last 179 attempts, and
an NCAA record by completing 24 consecutive passes in a two-game span against
Alabama and South Carolina.
An aspiring writer who dabbles in poetry and keeps a nightly journal,
credits different family members with teaching him about life.
He learned understanding and trust from the three generations of women
raised him. An uncle who is an engineer emphasized academics. And his mostly
absentee father, a former wide receiver at Mississippi Valley State, “really
was the guy that put the competitive spirit in my heart.”
And there were plenty of other lessons to be learned on the streets of
Mobile, Ala., lessons that have helped him keep football in perspective.
“I just don’t get butterflies,” he said. “I’m just ready to play on game
day. I know how to adjust my attitude before a game.”