Sports

Gators' Brantley could learn from Cats' Martin

When UK receivers coach Tee Martin was quarterback at Tennessee, he not only replaced Peyton Manning, but also outdid him with a national title.
When UK receivers coach Tee Martin was quarterback at Tennessee, he not only replaced Peyton Manning, but also outdid him with a national title.

Don't know if John Brantley sought out anyone in particular for advice when he took on the job of succeeding the legend that was Tim Tebow as quarterback at the University of Florida.

But Brantley could have placed a call to the 859 area code.

After all, if anyone knows all about the pomp and pressure of succeeding a legendary Southeastern Conference quarterback, and not just surviving but thriving, it's Kentucky's wide receivers coach.

"I was fortunate," Tee Martin said on Tuesday.

He is modest, Tee Martin. In 1998, after two years as Peyton Manning's backup at Tennessee, the smiling kid from Mobile, Ala., took on the unenviable task of following Manning and led the Volunteers to their first national championship since 1951.

"The only time you feel pressure and the only time you feel stress is when you're not prepared," Martin said after UK's practice in preparation for Saturday's game against the No. 9 Gators. "For me, I felt like I wanted to over-prepare so I could just go out there and play."

Martin didn't start preparing after Manning's final game in a Tennessee uniform. He started the season before, Martin's sophomore season, when Manning entered his senior campaign.

"It was the same situation that John's at in that Peyton decided to come back for his senior season," Martin said. "I knew for a fact that he didn't have another year to come back. I practiced like I was going to be the guy. That attitude and preparation I had was that I was one play away and, at the end of the season, I was really going to be the guy."

It was the same for Brantley, who even last year was being touted as the Gators' star of the future.

So far, so-so. Brantley has protected the football. He's on a streak of 140 pass attempts without an interception. But he's just seventh in the league in pass efficiency, has yet to throw for a 200-yard game, and has heard some do-better words from head coach Urban Meyer.

"I think he's got to get better," Meyer said on Monday. "To say that he's handled himself very well, to say he's managing the team, to say that he does throw a very nice pass and hit, I think, five third-and-longs against Tennessee — those are all very good. We're pleased with where we're at; we just have to keep improving."

Martin knows how to get there, and much of it includes not listening to comparisons.

"I didn't read the newspapers. I didn't watch the sports on the news," Martin said. "I totally had tunnel vision about the job that I had to do. The only thing I did know was that our coaching staff did a heck of a job recruiting, and it's the same situation down in Florida."

It helped, too, that Martin and Manning were close.

"That helped a lot," he said. "I had the opportunity to ask him questions, to see him work, to see how he went about his business, and his professionalism, and just being a great guy. He was always good to me, and I appreciated it."

Martin showed that appreciation by acting on what he learned from Manning and taking it one step further.

Manning could never make it past the Florida Gators, losing to Steve Spurrier in all three of his starts. Tennessee won the SEC in 1997, Manning's senior season, but the loss to the Gators knocked the Vols out of the national championship, shared that year by Michigan and Nebraska.

Surprisingly, when Manning moved on, and Martin moved in, the Vols moved up.

"I didn't want to let (Peyton) down, because he had taken pride in helping me get prepared," Martin said Tuesday.

With Martin at the helm, Tennessee beat Florida 20-17 in overtime, then proceeded to run the table, including a 23-16 win over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl.

"It really started back in 1996, and the national championship was a culmination of that," Martin said. "I really feel that way.

"Most quarterbacks feel pressure, most players feel like once a big-time player leaves, they have to do more, but really it comes down to doing your job and believing what your coaches say, and everything will work out."

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