GREENEVILLE — Tee Martin’s suit was gray, his shirt was blue, and he has added a couple of pounds to his athletic frame.
But Tennessee’s 1998 national championship quarterback has the same smile and personality that made him the offensive leader of the Vols.
Martin, on the brink of entering his second season as Kentucky’s receivers coach, was the keynote speaker Tuesday night at the Boys and Girls Club Champions Dinner at Greeneville First Baptist Church.
“I grew up in Mobile’s Boys and Girls Club, from the time the doors were open until the time the doors were closed,’’ Martin, 32, told the sold-out crowd. “It meant everything to me.’’
It was obvious Martin’s time at Tennessee still means a great deal to him also, even though he’s now recruiting and coaching for the Wildcats.
Martin, whose recruiting duties at Kentucky do not include Tennessee, said while many things are the same when he returns to the Volunteer State, there are differences.
“It will always be special, but it’s different,’’ Martin said. “It’s funny, everywhere I go, that’s what everyone wants to know. So it’s a homecoming, but it’s still kind of different because I coach at Kentucky. The UT fans are always great to me.’’
Indeed, most of the fans at Tuesday night’s fundraiser were wearing orange, but there was some blue in the audience.
Martin said he believes the Wildcats can be very good this season.
“I like how we feel as a team right now,’’ Martin said. “The players have confidence, they are going the extra mile and doing the things on their own, and we return 10 starters on defense.’’
But Martin knew his audience, and the talk soon turned to Tennessee.
“I’ll never forget after we won the national championship, Coach (Phillip) Fulmer told us in the locker room we wouldn’t realize how much it meant until years later,’’ Martin said. “Now that I’m a coach, and I’m out there recruiting and trying to win every Saturday, I understand and see that he was right.
“What we accomplished was a testament to our coaches and the leadership they provided us.’’
Martin reflected on how he chose Tennessee over Auburn, Miami, Fla., and Notre Dame during the recruiting process.
In the end, he said, it came down to two things: Fulmer and the Smoky Mountains.
“When I was a kid, I always used to draw mountains, even though I was growing up in the flat lands of Alabama near water,’’ Martin said. “Tennessee was my last visit, and when the plane came over the Smoky Mountains, I felt this was the place for me.
“Then I met Coach Fulmer, and he wasn’t like the other coaches who were trying to sell me on the program like it was a used car,’’ Martin said. “He was just a good, friendly person that made you feel like you always wanted to play hard for him.’’
Martin had a surprise visitor at the speaking engagement — former Vols center Spencer Riley, who snapped the ball through UT’s magical season.
“Tee was a great leader because he had no fear,’’ said Riley, who’s now the offensive line coach at Tusculum College. “We knew he was young, and we knew he would make mistakes, but we also knew he loved to compete, and he was cool as ice.’’
Fulmer said he’s proud of Martin and the person he continues to be.
“From the time we recruited Tee, he was special, and I’m proud of the work he’s doing with the boys and girls clubs,’’ Fulmer said in a phone interview. “. . . Tee Martin has more great things and great acts ahead; there are many who will benefit from that young man.’’