KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Dozens of Tennessee fans are counting down to kick off this weekend. The Volunteers are hosting the University of Tennessee at Martin Skyhawks this Saturday for homecoming but sometimes football is more than just a game.
Vol fans from all over are helping to donate to UT Martin offensive lineman AJ Marquez and his family get back on their feet after losing their home in Hurricane Ian.
After several days of fundraising for the family, only a little more than $3,000 was collected as of Wednesday morning. After a few hours and a Twitter exchange between UT Martin Athletics and UT Athletic Director Danny White, the fundraiser is now more than $55,000.
“I couldn’t sleep until like 3 am just because I kept seeing that number go up and go up,” Marquez said. “I’ve never experienced that type of love before.”
The redshirt freshman does not consider himself a typical college football player.
“I’m not into college football like that I just play the sport. I mean, I’m the first to play college sports in my family. I was the first to play sports in general in my family,” Marquez said.
Right now, Marquez is gearing up for Saturday’s game against the Vols but his family in Port Charlotte, Fla., is picking up the pieces after losing everything in Hurricane Ian.
“My mom needed me, so I went down home,” Marquez said. “And it didn’t hit me until I sat down and looked at my house, looked at my neighborhood and experienced and seeing everyone pick pieces out of their house and throwing it out, it was a crazy experience.”
As Marquez processed the damage, he struggled with continuing his football career.
“Just going back home and work. Work like a blue-collar job. Just work hard and all these things did come to mind but my mom does want me to get a degree and carry that weight with a degree,” he said.
However, Marquez’s mind is slowly coming to ease as more and more, especially Vol fans, give to his fundraiser.
“If I could have a single file line of everybody and have conversations with every single person that donated, I would. I would do a whole week doing that, thanking everybody I could. They didn’t have to do those things. They didn’t have to out of their way to donate. They did it out of the kindness of their heart. You know, nowadays I think we’re in a pretty dark place in the world right now. People aren’t as good and this is a lot of light on the darkness in the world,” he said.
If anyone wants to donate to Marquez’s family to rebuild their lives, click here.