Jonathan Crompton hesitates when asked the question.
Never one to look for pity, he's extremely uncomfortable during an interview over lunch discussing the persistent verbal attacks he received from Tennessee football fans who were disappointed by his performance last season.
Yet Crompton confirmed what the News Sentinel had been told months ago, that the cell phone calls and e-mails escalated to death threats as the Vols stumbled to a 5-7 season.
"I did have death threats," the senior quarterback reluctantly said.
Crompton said he received "a couple" of the threats, all via e-mail, as the Vols were struggling last fall.
For the most part, Crompton carried the weight of such extreme criticism alone. He chose not to go to his parents for fear they would worry.
Crompton's parents became aware of the severity of the situation when a package they had ordered had slanderous messages about their son written on the shipping box.
"That's when my parents started talking about it," Crompton said.
Crompton also received prank calls on his cell phone after the number was circulated on the Internet. Even when the correspondences weren't threatening, they were persistent.
He never told anyone in Tennessee's athletic department about the calls and e-mails. He wanted to focus on football.
"I really didn't talk about it that much," he said. "You don't say 'Poor me.' "
The criticism was tough to avoid in a football town in turmoil, even at school.
"It would get tough going to class," said Crompton, who graduated in May and is working on his master's degree. "You wouldn't hear what people were saying but you would hear people whispering."
Then there were those who were a bit bolder.
"I got confronted numerous amounts of times," Crompton said.
He's not complaining about what he heard from dismayed fans last season. Doing so would be hypocritical. Crompton chose UT, in part, because of its passionate fan base.
"It was tough, I'm not going to lie," he said. "When you're faced with adversity, your true character comes out - as a person, as a student, as a Christian.
"It tested me."
Whatever happens on the field in 2009, Crompton has passed the toughest test of his football career - a test of perseverance.
The highly rated high school prospect from Waynesville, N.C., still loves football despite facing some of the worst situations an athlete can imagine. Since arriving at UT in 2005, Crompton has undergone two surgeries to his throwing arm, earned limited playing time during his first three seasons and has endured two losing seasons - one on his watch.
Crompton, however, wouldn't change a thing.
"When it goes bad, that's when you really see how much you love the game of football," he said.
Crompton has never liked admitting that criticism affects him. He prefers a private, nose-to-the-grindstone approach. But in this case, there's some motivation derived from what happened in 2008.
"It's got to add fuel to the fire," he said. "The harder people bash you, the harder I want to work."
Crompton maintains that he never soured on UT's fan base despite the barrage of criticism.
"That's their opinion,'' he said. "It's a free country. They can say what they want."
As did former teammate B.J. Coleman, who implied that he outplayed Crompton in spring practice and deserved the starting quarterback position before leaving Knoxville for Chattanooga in May.
"If that's his opinion, that's his opinion," Crompton said. "That's not my opinion."
Coleman claimed that Crompton was given the inside track because the coaching staff wanted UT's quarterback position to appear more vacant and, subsequently, more desirable to the high school prospects they are recruiting.
UT coach Lane Kiffin dismissed Coleman's conspiracy theory.
"It never has and never will have anything to do with our quarterback decision," Kiffin said in an e-mail to the News Sentinel. "The quarterback will be the guy that we believe gives us the best chance to win."
Much of Coleman's fan adoration came from his beginnings. Coleman was a high school hero at McCallie School in Chattanooga before signing with UT in 2007.
Crompton hasn't received the same sort of adulation despite years of loyalty.
Crompton committed to UT as a junior in 2004, never wavered despite a loaded depth chart awaiting him in 2005, and never complained about limited practice repetitions that all but eliminated him from contending for the starting job until his junior season.
"How many guys starting are in-state?" Crompton asked. "I'm actually closer than a lot of guys that are in-state. My house (in Waynesville) is only a 100 miles from my apartment."
Many people have told Crompton that he should have transferred elsewhere so he could have played sooner.
"If I didn't want to be here, I wouldn't have signed here," Crompton said. "I'm not a quitter."
Crompton is the frontrunner for UT's starting job, although Kiffin has said there will be an open competition in preseason camp.
Kiffin regularly backed Crompton's performance even when the senior sometimes struggled adapting to a new system.
"I don't think I had that since I've been here," Crompton said.
Said Kiffin: "It's extremely important, in my opinion, for the head coach and quarterbacks to have a strong relationship and for them to know we have great confidence in them."
Kiffin's offensive system is the fifth Crompton has been forced to learn in his UT career: one under Randy Sanders, two under David Cutcliffe (who retooled his offense to go no-huddle in 2007) and another under Dave Clawson last season.
The repeated transitions could have played a role in Crompton's struggles last season. Critics questioned if he could survey the field adequately.
When asked about Crompton's field vision, Kiffin offered no hint that he was concerned.
"Jonathan has done a great job with the transition," Kiffin said. "He's taken a very professional approach to learning and studying the offense.
"I'm not concerned about previous play at any of our positions, including quarterback. Jonathan did a great job in the spring and we look forward to continued improvement."
Crompton's miscues - along with a fondness for coaching cliches in interviews so he doesn't reveal private team matters - have led some to question his intelligence. It's an issue that admittedly bothers him.
"If you don't know me personally and know what I know about the game, then how can you judge me?" Crompton said. "If anybody wants to come sit down and watch film with me, then their opinion will probably be changed."
Crompton now feels like he's back to his "old self," a likely by-product of playing in a quarterback-friendly system that can capitalize on his ability to throw on the run and improvise.
"That's something we haven't had here in awhile," Crompton said. "I'm back to going out there and just saying 'You know what, I'm going to play ball like I play. I'm going to play like myself in their system.' "
The 2009 season won't be a personal proving ground for Crompton. He's much more concerned about getting UT back on top than simply validating himself.
"I've got nothing to prove except that Tennessee football is Tennessee football," Crompton said. "It's not about individuals. It's about the team as a whole.
"It's not about one person."