Martin hopes his road leads to UK victory

UK Assistant's ties to Vols include street sign

ccosby@herald-leader.comNovember 24, 2010 

Kentucky wide receivers coach Tee Martin will pass through Tee Martin Drive on his way to Neyland Stadium on Saturday, making him one of the few guys to coach against a program that has a street named after him.

Martin quarterbacked the Vols to a 13-0 season and the national championship in 1998, and he'll make his first trip to the opposing sideline when the Cats play there Saturday afternoon.

Martin admitted he doesn't quite know what to expect.

"I don't know what it's going to feel like and I can't explain what it's going to feel like," he said. "I really don't know. It's going to be emotional; it's going to be strange. But I've got a job to do. Once the ball is kicked off and the pads start popping, nobody's going to be worried about me on the sidelines. The boys are going to have to go out there and win the game."

Martin's loyalties are clearly with Kentucky now, but he won't pretend that UT doesn't have a soft spot in his heart.

"That's where I spent a lot of my young life, from the time I was 17 years old until I became a grown man," Martin said. "I'm not here to say I hate Tennessee just because we're playing them. I'm not going to say that. It's a special place to me. It always will be.

"But I'm working at Kentucky, and I'm loyal to where I work, and we have a job to do when I get there."

UK offensive coordinator and former Tennessee letterman/assistant coach Randy Sanders was Martin's coordinator during that championship year and has already had to face his alma mater in Wildcat blue. This will be Sanders' third trip to Neyland, and Martin said it was probably tougher for Sanders than it will be for him.

"It's probably old hat for him," Martin said. "But Coach Sanders is from the state of Tennessee ... He had more years invested in the Tennessee program. I was there four years as a player, and you have emotions and attachments to the program, but for him, I know it was tough."

Sanders said he doesn't give much thought to playing in Knoxville anymore and points out there have been two coaching changes since he left.

"It was never that big of a deal, but it's even less of one now," Sanders said. "There's not many people I know there anymore as far as coaches, players or anything else. There's just a couple of players who we were in the process of recruiting left over there. Even secretaries, the administration, the support staff, there's just not that many faces that are there that were there."

And Sanders pointed out that Martin's Tennessee playing career ended in 1999.

"It's not like he's just nine months removed from it," Sanders said. "There'll be some familiar faces. Obviously the stadium and the field will be familiar, but you're also going to a different locker room wearing a different color. Once you get through the initial reaction, it's game day. You've got to get focused on what you need to do to win the game."

Martin, who played for longtime Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer, was critical of the one-year Lane Kiffin era in Knoxville, but he said he likes what he sees from the Vols under first-year coach Derek Dooley. Tennessee (5-6, 2-5 SEC) has righted the ship and won three straight after a rough start and can qualify for a bowl this year.

"No one expected those guys to be in position to even get to a bowl game this year, and that's exactly where they are," Martin said. "Their program is headed in the right direction in what they're doing in recruiting, and they're a lot more talented than the stats show. They're still going to be Tennessee on Saturday."

So just what will Martin be thinking when he makes that turn onto Tee Martin Drive? The humble Martin shrugged it off.

"It's just a tribute to the guys I played with," Martin said. "I wouldn't have had a street named for me if the guys I played with didn't put forth the effort to do the things that allowed people to think that highly of me. It was a team award. I don't think of it as my street, as if I did it by myself."

If Martin can help the Cats beat the Volunteers for the first time since 1984, passing by Tee Martin Drive on the way out of Knoxville will be a lot more enjoyable.

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