Originally created 07/31/98

Replacing Peyton a fit for Tee



BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The shots pierced loud and clear through the scorching summer afternoon calm. Bullets with no name, but seeking a body.

Tee Martin was lucky, though. Lucky that he had entered his house at the right time. Ten seconds later, and Martin may not have been so fortunate. Ten seconds later and maybe Martin, not his longtime friend, falls victim to a drive-by shooting in Mobile, Ala.

"I'm just blessed to be here," Martin said Thursday at the SEC Kickoff.

It's three years later now. The stray bullets lie safely in his past. And Martin must begin to avoid a much less severe danger in frothing defenders.

Tennessee's most celebrated and most popular quarterback is counting his millions, and Martin has inherited the unenviable task of replacing Peyton Manning.

"I like being the guy to follow behind Peyton Manning," said Martin, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior. "I want to step up to that challenge and do the best I can."

Just don't try to convince him that there's a lot of pressure on his shoulders. Pressure?

Pressure is staying out of trouble in a tough section of Mobile so treacherous that the police feared entrance.

Pressure is going to live with your grandmother so that your mother has one less mouth to feed as she struggles through two jobs while attending school on the side.

Pressure is finding a way out, even when people thought you might be the last to leave.

"A lot of people died in the neighborhood I grew up in," Martin said. "I was fortunate enough to make it out and do something better with my life."

To keep on track, Martin started working when he reached 10. He cut lawns from dawn until dusk for his uncle, just to avoid the temptations.

"I made sure I didn't have time to get in trouble," Martin said.

During a stay with his great grandmother, Mary Posley, Martin befriended James Johnson, who now starts at running back for Mississippi State.

Johnson had a couple years on the 9-year-old Martin, but they constantly played together in the street. And it was Johnson who hounded Martin about sticking with football.

A decade later, Martin inherits one of the highest profile positions in college football.

"Tee is humble, and all Tee wants to do is win," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "He's got a lot of pride and not much ego. He's about as perfect a guy to handle this as anyone could be."

Martin played in six games and attempted only 12 passes last season behind Manning. But he established confidence in himself and in his teammates toward the end of the season.

When Manning suffered from the flu in the weeks preceding the Orange Bowl, Martin was forced to practice as the first-string quarterback. Though he didn't start, Martin entered the game in the final minutes and marched the Volunteers 80 yards on eight plays for a touchdown against co-national champion Nebraska.

"It may have been the last couple minutes," Johnson said, "but, in my opinion, that's a real glimpse of what Tee can do for an offense."

The offense has been adjusted to suit Martin, who runs a 4.8-second 40 and can launch the ball 80 yards. The look will resemble the Heath Shuler years more than Manning's drop-back mode.

Martin has consulted Manning and former Auburn quarterback Dameyune Craig to help prepare for this opportunity.

But you can bet he needs no help learning to deal with the pressure.