Long wait is over

After being a letterwinner his first three seasons on campus at Tennessee, Ben Martin suffered a pair of potential career-ending injuries. Sign in or subscribe now to read more about how the Ohio native has battled back to give his all for the Volunteers.

When two torn Achilles' tendons within a seven-month span caused him to miss the 2010 season and 2011 spring practice, Tennessee defensive end Ben Martin seriously considered giving up football.

He'll be suiting up for tonight's opener against Montana, however, and no one is happier about that than Lance Thompson.

"Ben's awesome," the Vols' defensive line coach said recently. "Ben's incredible in terms of toughness, in terms of effort. He's an outstanding guy to have in this group."

That's because Martin, a fifth-year senior, is surrounded by underclassmen who look to him for guidance. He never fails to provide it.

"A lot of times young guys who haven't played think they know what good is. They don't know what good is," Thompson said. "Ben can get in there and show them what good looks like."

For a while last winter, however, Martin could only show his younger teammates what frustration looks like. Suffering two torn Achilles in rapid succession was utterly demoralizing.

"Oh, definitely. It tests your patience because it's something you can't rush back from," he said. "You've got to know your limits. You don't want to push too hard and take a couple of steps back."

One might expect that Martin's second Achilles tear occurred because he favored the one he injured the first time. He says that was not the case.

"I talked to my physical therapy guy, John Dean, and he said it's genetic," Martin said. "He said you can't really do anything about. It could pop then or it could pop later. You just don't know about it."

Martin was limited in preseason camp and may not be 100 percent until Game 3 or 4. Still, he is encouraged by his recovery.

"Right now I feel pretty good," he said recently. "I'm keeping up with the trainers, getting a lot of treatment, just trying to get ready for the season."

Coming off two Achilles tears in the past 13 months, some guys would be cautious and tentative. Not Ben Martin.

"You can't be cautious out here," he said. "That's how you get hurt. You can't do that."

Martin weighed just 230 when he arrived on The Hill four years ago. He'll carry 264 pounds on his 6-4 frame tonight vs. Montana.

"There's a lot of benefits to the extra size," he said. "I'm stronger, harder to move. It's easier to maintain my gaps, stuff like that."

Because Tennessee is frightfully young in its front seven, Martin recognizes the value of being a good role model and leader to his inexperienced teammates.

"That's something that's important to me - talking to the younger guys, pulling 'em aside if they have a rough down," he said. "I just tell 'em 'Forget that play. Let's move on to the next one. Let's go.'"

Martin started 11 games as a Vol junior and began showing the form that made him a Parade All-American in high school. Tonight will be his first game appearance since a Chick fil-A Bowl loss to Virginia Tech on Dec. 31, 2009, so he's understandably excited.

"I'm very eager to get out there and see what I can do against Montana," he said.

Asked if he expects to pick up where he left off in 2009, Martin smiled and replied: "I'm pretty confident I can do what I did back then. I'm excited to get this thing rolling."

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