NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s no secret that Tennessee fans are passionate about the Vols’ plays on the field, but this past week, many UT fans have taken the ‘Volunteer Spirit’ to heart.

Last week was a busy week for Vol Nation, fans and players alike were still coming off the high of beating Alabama and were preparing to take on the University of Tennessee at Martin for a matchup on homecoming weekend at Neyland Stadium.

However, through the celebrations and preparations, many Volunteer fans paused in an effort to support a player on the rival team for a good cause.

AJ Marquez, an offensive lineman for UT Martin, had more than just football on his mind ahead of Saturday’s game. The offensive lineman was on campus when he learned his family lost their home in Port Charlotte, Florida, following Hurricane Ian’s catastrophic path that left at least 100 people dead.


“I mean, I couldn’t focus for about a week. I mean, we had a game that week, and I couldn’t, I couldn’t focus,” said Marquez, “I couldn’t pay attention to plays. I couldn’t. I couldn’t even focus on class. I mean, it was a whole distraction, well not a distraction, but I couldn’t focus on what was in front of me, just because my mind was like, what’s happening in the house? How are they mentally? How are they physically?”

The Port Charlotte residence was his parents’ first home and it took a major hit during the storm. Coaches and teammates rallied around him as the administration came up with an idea — creating a GoFundMe account.

Let’s just say Vol Nation responded in a big way. As of Oct. 24, the total was approaching $85,000 to help the Marquez family recover from the hurricane. AJ says the love and support he received from Tennessee fans have made him a supporter for life.

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“I’m excessively thankful for that. I mean the Vols have gained a lifetime, lifelong fan. I will forever be a diehard Vols fan,” said AJ, “Now that the game has ended and now that we’re not opponents no more I can finally just say I hope they win the Natty. I have so much respect and so much love for the University of Tennessee.”

Marquez told News 2 that his family’s good fortune has changed his outlook on his own future. If you would like to support the Marquez family in recovering from Hurricane Ian, click here.