'Tee time' for Volunteers paying off so far

TENNESSEE PREVIEW

By Mark Mayorga

Daily Cougar Staff

He may not put up the numbers or be in the running for the Heisman, but after waiting in the shadow of Peyton Manning for two years, Tee Martin has finally done what Manning could never do - beat Florida.

While Manning had days when he threw for 500 yards and still came away with a loss, Martin's 7 for 20 and 64 yards were enough for the Vols to come away with their first win against the Gators since 1992.

"It says something about the character of our team. We kept coming back and working hard, and we finally started breaking some big plays," Martin said.

After battling the entire four quarters and ending up tied at 17, the Vols and the Gators experienced their first overtime game since the new format went into effect in 1996.

"We came together and said, 'Hey we've put a lot of pressure on the defense all night, so it's our time to show up,'" Martin said.

With two incompletions and a Vol holding penalty, Martin displayed his scrambling ability by dashing 14 yards and setting up Jeff Hall for a 41-yard field goal.

"I didn't want to throw an interception, so I pulled it in and tried to get as much yardage as I could. I knew I had to get Jeff (Hall, UT's place-kicker) closer to the field goal, and I knew he was going to make it," Martin said.

The 20-17 victory finally enabled the Vols to knock off the dreaded monkey on their back for the past five seasons and give them control of the SEC East race.

Playing in a program used to winning doesn't make it easy for a new quarterback, and having to fill the shoes of someone who re-wrote the school's record books doesn't make it any easier.

"There has been a lot of pressure since I first became the starter. During the spring, a lot of people were asking if I was trying to be like Peyton or not. But no, I have to look at it different and say, 'I'm Tee,' and play my kind of ball," Martin said.

Coming out of high school into the situation at Tennessee, he knew he was going to see limited action, and over his two years on the sideline he absorbed every piece of football knowledge he could get a hold of.

"When I came here as a freshman, I didn't expect to play right off the bat because I knew there were a lot of things I had to work on physically," Martin said.

And now that he is at the head of the reign, he welcomes any pressure that flows his way.

"I like pressure. I like being at the free-throw line with two seconds left and down by two.

"I want to lead the SEC in everything. That's the pressure I want to put on myself and the offense," Martin said.

Coming into this season, everyone thought he was an option quarterback, but the truth has been that he's accustomed to running the run and shoot.

With his athletic ability, the Vols are looking for Martin to be able to run the option so they can incorporate it into this season's play book.

"There are a lot of things I have to learn about the option. I told coach that the only way I could learn it is by doing it the real way," Martin said.

Just like he did in the Florida overtime game, Martin brings the dimension Manning never possessed, tucking the ball away and running.

"Defenses have to think about it. If (the secondary) are following receivers downfield, there's going to be a lot more rushing yards for me."

Even though he has been able to get the Vols over the UF hump, the question of living up to what Manning accomplished is something Martin won't be able to get around.

"It's hard, it's hard because it's true. There's no way of getting around it, but I have to go out and be myself and play my style of football," Martin said.

"It only energizes me more and motivates me that much more when people constantly throw Peyton in my face."

Reach Mayorga at

mmm91331@bayou.uh.edu.

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