The Courtship of Ben Martin

Ben Martin

Ben Martin's shocking commitment to Tennessee on the forum of high school football's greatest stage may have caught recruiting analysts off guard, but it didn't fool one wily former guard by the name of Phillip Fulmer.

The Volunteer head coach had his most trusted aide on the case in offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who is a quiet almost unassuming presence on the recruiting trail, but an effective and personable presence in the den of big-time prospects. His low-key approach easily engenders him to high-profile players that have heard every pitch in the book. Where some use the hard sell to make themselves heard, Cutcliffe opts for real conversation about real concerns that a prospect and his family naturally have about choosing a college.

Coach Fulmer was also heavily involved in the recruiting of Martin, as he has been with virtually every prospect UT has committed to the Class of 2007. Once a prospect visits Tennessee's campus, Fulmer greets each with a firm handshake and a gentle touch. He walks them into Neyland Stadium like he was leading them into a Saturday night gridiron battle.

He'll make a sweeping gesture with his hand while describing the feeling of racing onto the field before 108,000 howling fans. He'll reach into his treasure trove of Tennessee memories gathered over five separate decades and pull out an appropriate anectdote, and share it like one might examine a precious gem. He invites them into his home and into the Vol family. Moreover, he conveys his passion and reverence for the the UT football program. In short Phillip Fulmer doesn't sell prospects as much as he gives testimony.

It took that type of Butch-and-Sundance teamwork from Cutcliffe and Fulmer to persuade Ben Martin, of Cincinnati, Ohio, to pick underdog Tennessee over a field of contenders that featured — Ohio State, Michigan, Florida, Notre Dame and West Virginia.

"I talked with my mother and my family," Martin told IT moments after the U.S. Army All-American Bowl ended Saturday. "I took four visits and that was it for me. I just felt Tennessee was the right place to be. I went with my gut feeling and I prayed on it, and I went with Tennessee."

Martin went on to describe the sense of comfort he had at Tennessee and family feel to the team. He also acknowledged the role Cutcliffe played in his decision to Volunteer.

"I was recruited to play defensive end and that's all right to me," he said. "Coach Cutcliffe recruited me for Tennessee. He's a great guy."

The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Martin is a five-star prospect rated No. 8 among the country's defensive ends crop. He recorded over 100 tackles as a senior at La Salle High School and is a superb pass rusher. He runs a 4.65 time in the 40, bench presses 325 pounds and squats 450.

Additionally, Martin is a high character citizen and an excellent student (3.4 GPA).

"I'm going up to school in the summer," he said. "I'm going to major in Spanish or education. I don't know yet. It feels great to have the decision over with and to be going to Tennessee."

The Vols would end the day with another five-star commitment as Huntingdon linebacker Chris Donald declared for Tennessee over Notre Dame. It wasn't a shocker but it was a huge get, and UT's fourth five-star prospect committed to the Class of 2007.

It's also another solid gold star for Fulmer & Co.

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