The last time Ben Martin played a football game was the 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia Tech.

In that game, Tauren Poole, then UT’s fourth-string running back, gained 15 yards on three carries.

Now, 20 months later, Martin and Poole are both listed as starters for the Volunteers’ season-opener against Montana — Martin at defensive end and Poole at tailback.

But there was a time neither of them thought they’d be playing football at UT their senior seasons.

 For Martin, it was two torn Achilles’ tendons, one during fall camp last year and the other in February during off-season workouts. For Poole, it was the thought of transferring after sitting on the bench behind younger players when he believed he deserved the opportunity during the 2009 season.

“Exact same thing,” Poole said of the two’s journeys. “Me and Ben talk a lot. (We’re) kind of the same person: been through a lot of adversity, faced a lot, never gave up and we just keep fighting. It’s an incredible story with Ben. He almost gave it up with the two Achilles’ (injuries). I told him my situation was nothing like his ’cause he could’ve let it go.”

Martin said standing on the sidelines a season ago in what would’ve been his senior season and watching his teammates was difficult.

“It was tough to be part of the team, but you can’t help them in the way that you want to help them by being out there and competing,” Martin said. “You kind of lose your identity and lose who you are because you’ve been a football player for so long and to be a regular guy, it’s different.”

Another thing different for Martin is the type of player he is. After coming to UT as a highly ranked pass-rusher listed at 230 pounds, the 6-foot-4 Martin now weighs 265 pounds and is much better in run support.

Still, Martin’s biggest impact on the team has been his perseverance through his adversity.

“Ben’s a leader. He just wants to be out there,” Poole said. “He’s an inspiring guy. Guys want to follow his lead and he wants to lead as best as he can.”