David Martin catches a UT degree at 33

Kameisha Martin, left, takes a photo of her husband David Martin with their sons Darius, 9, and Devyn, 5, during a reception for athletes at Pratt Pavilion before graduation ceremonies at the University of Tennessee on Saturday. David Martin played football for UT in the late 90's before leaving school to play in the NFL. He returned to complete his degree in sociology. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Kameisha Martin, left, takes a photo of her husband David Martin with their sons Darius, 9, and Devyn, 5, during a reception for athletes at Pratt Pavilion before graduation ceremonies at the University of Tennessee on Saturday. David Martin played football for UT in the late 90's before leaving school to play in the NFL. He returned to complete his degree in sociology. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Former UT and NFL player David Martin graduates

He caught his final Tennessee pass on a bitter cold New Year's Day 2001 in Dallas. It was a touchdown, one of few highlights in a Cotton Bowl loss to Kansas State.

Nearly 12 years passed until David Martin finally completed his mission at the University of Tennessee.

He walked his final route Saturday morning. It was a simple pattern, across the stage at Thompson-Boling Arena to receive a diploma.

Martin hasn't been idle since he cleaned out his locker at UT. He spent the better part of 11 years in the NFL.

But he had promised his mom and his wife he would one day finish his business at UT. This semester, he did, becoming the first in his family to get a college degree.

"I'm more anxious than when I got drafted,'' Martin said Thursday. "It's been a long time coming.''

Martin is another beneficiary of UT's RAC program that encourages former athletes to finish their degree.

"When they come back,'' said Dr. Georgia Caver of the Thornton Center, "they're ready to get it done. They are quite dedicated.''

That describes Martin.

He came to UT from Norfolk, Va., in 1997, in time to catch one pass from Peyton Manning.

Martin was around for some of UT's best days, playing in three BCS Bowls — including the 1998 national championship — and finishing in the Cotton Bowl.

Considering his extended NFL career with Green Bay, Miami and Buffalo, Martin appears under-utilized at UT, catching just 46 passes in his career.

The Packers saw enough to draft him in the sixth round and move him to tight end.

He played six years with Green Bay, won a lot of games and left with an indelible mark.

"One day in practice, I didn't have any shoulder pads on,'' said Martin. "Brett Favre threw a ball so hard it left an impression in my chest.

"It's still there to this day.''

By the time he moved to Miami in 2007, Martin was married to former Lady Vol track All-American Kameisha Bennett and was a father.

Early in his career he bought a house in Knoxville to give the family roots. It was in early 2011 during the Buffalo stint when he got seri

ous about finishing his degree.

"When I left I needed only 12 hours,'' he said. "When I came back they told me it was going to be 39 hours. I almost got up and walked back out.''

But he didn't.

"A lot changed from the time David left to the time he came back,'' said Caver. "That's the way it is for a lot of the guys.

"Sometimes it can be a shock.''

The RAC program pays tuition, books and fees. Martin dug in hard for three semesters and earned a sociology degree.

At 31, it was an adjustment to be back in the classroom. He bumped into current Vols, who weren't quite sure who he was.

"They see my physique and know I played football,'' he said. "A couple of guys look at me like they want to ask questions but they don't.''

Martin had to squeeze in homework with being a husband and a father to Darius, 9, and Devyn, 5. Darius has a form of autism but Martin said he's doing well in school at Rocky Hill.

Saturday, surrounded by family and several former teammates, 33-year-old Martin completed his mission. There will be a new diploma to hang on the wall next to Kameisha's.

"It's pretty tough coming back,'' said Caver, "but he hung in there. I'm proud of him.''

Follow Mike Strange at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 26

SamDaVol writes:

What a great story. Congratulations!!

BigBadVol writes:

Congrats David, and thank you for being a Vol.

SeaBassHauling writes:

Way to Goooooooo David...! We UT fans are proud of your accomplishments

ashvol7 writes:

in response to SeaBassHauling:

Way to Goooooooo David...! We UT fans are proud of your accomplishments

Great job David, we VOL fans are very proud of you. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

david_light_38230#225602 writes:

What a GREAT story . . . I hope that David becomes involved in the football program with Coach Jones . . . he is a GREAT VOL!!!

GO VOLS!!

crutch1966 writes:

he can be the wide receiver coach.

ornglovinyankealum writes:

Hopefully this will be an example for future UT athletes. I, as a UT alum, am very proud of you. Thanks and God bless you and your family.

VolInIndy writes:

in response to crutch1966:

he can be the wide receiver coach.

and tight ends. He looked awfully good with the Packers.

ornglovinyankealum writes:

While we all have orange blood and are very distressed about the collapse of our football program, it is refreshing to pause from the multitudes of confrontational blogs to focus on a few comments regarding the truly important things in life as exemplied by David Martin.

wheatbarley writes:

The best article I've read in a long time. Congratulations!

WhoIsJohnGalt writes:

Hey, David Martin. Good job by you!!

VolinCalif writes:

in response to VolInIndy:

and tight ends. He looked awfully good with the Packers.

Sounds like he may be interested in being a Grad Assist. Bring him on.

RBC1950 writes:

GREAT ARTICLE NOT OFTEN WE HEAR GOOD NEWS!!

VolunteerLifer writes:

Good Show, David.

BillVol writes:

33. You all act like he's 83.

Millisa writes:

Congratulations David :) :) :) Go Vols!!! :) :) :)

reg_mza#219136 writes:

way to go! Congrats!

Now talk about a big physical specimen at UT. Under-utilized for the faster receivers, I was pleasantly surprised and happy he was able to have some success in the NFL. I'm glad he could go back and finish up, much like Jonathan Brown did last year.

iowavol writes:

congrats david. i used to see you in green and gold up here in Wisconsin. you made us proud then as you do now.

HallowedHill writes:

Congratulations!!

uttcut writes:

Congratulations! Glad UT offers this program!

kmay1125 writes:

Most excellent....it's hard to come back to school after dropping out....Best of luck in future endeavors

chattabluetick writes:

in response to kmay1125:

Most excellent....it's hard to come back to school after dropping out....Best of luck in future endeavors

You are exactly right. He had to really want it. Congrats to you and your family. David you have set a good example and are a credit to the Vol nation. Merry Christmas !

mytrifecta writes:

it's easy to overlook the fact that for every Nukeese, janzen jackson, da'rick, etc there are two or three guys like David Martin. great story and excellent example David has set for future VFL's.

Orangeblood64 writes:

Great Story.

KDOG1973 writes:

Congrats David! You just "displayed" true character, honor, and will. It's a sign of a real man. Congrats again.

RockyTop1_old writes:

We ARE proud of you!!! GREAT job, VFL!!!

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