Tee Martin, who led Tennessee to a national championship in the late 1990s and has gone on to become a coach on the college level, returned to his alma mater, Williamson High School, last week with a message for students there: Follow your dreams and don’t allow your focus to be pulled away from them.
“My dream to be where I am today started at a very young age,” said Martin, now the offensive coordinator at USC. “Why is that important? It’s important because a lot of you guys started dreaming something at a very young age. … Something is in your mind that you want to be.
“The only difference between me and a few of my friends who may not be in this position is sticking to that something and not letting people persuade you out of it. It wasn’t cool all the time being different for me, but I took pride in being different. Everybody wanted to go out and do this, do that, go to that party, smoke this, drink that, and I said, ‘That’s not good, because that’s not in line with where I want to be in life.’ … Whatever that something is … hold on to that dream.”
Simply having a dream isn’t enough, however. “The second part of having a vision is to start putting it in motion,” Martin said.
To that end, Martin encouraged the students to:
— Work toward college. “College is not an option. It should be a requirement,” he said. “All you guys are bright enough, all you guys are smart enough, all you guys are talented enough, if you believe and don’t let anybody persuade you out of it.”
— Think about their decisions and how they might affect the future. “The only difference between me and at lot of people I came up with are the decisions that I made,” he said. Make the right decisions over and over and over again. And making the right decisions can sometimes be boring, can sometimes be monotonous. But you’re doing the right thing, to stay on track.”
— Put in the work necessary to turn a dream into reality. “If you’re going to be good at anything, you’ve got to basically live it. It’s the relentless work ethic. People are going to think you’re crazy. But that’s OK.
“I was running in the rain when everybody else thought it was time to go inside. … Because you only get one shot.”
— Have a good attitude and work at improving yourself. “I could have gotten to Tennessee, saw Peyton Manning and said, ‘Man, I will never play here,'” he said. “But every day I went to the field and I tried to beat his behind. Every day, I tried to show him up.
“You have to make that decision every day. … It’s all about how much you care — showing up, how you dress and your attitude.”
Martin, a highly recruited quarterback out of Williamson in the 1990s, told the students that he chose Tennessee because he knew he wouldn’t play right away and decided “if I’m going to have to wait … I wanted to pick a place where I felt like I would learn the most.”
After serving as Manning’s backup for two years, Martin became Tennessee’s starting quarterback in 1998 and led the Vols to a national championship that season. After spending six years with five different clubs in the NFL, NFL Europe and Canadian Football League, Martin began a coaching career that has included stints as an assistant at New Mexico and Kentucky before he joined the staff at USC in 2012. He was named the Trojans’ offensive coordinator in December.