Nico Iamaleava gets all the pub among Tennessee football newcomers. That’s understandable. He’s made quite a name for himself. However, there are plenty of other mid-term enrolees that are making an impression other than the five-star quarterback that everyone is excited to see on campus.
Of the UT freshmen and transfers that have already joined the team, a couple stand out for a couple of different reasons. One could be needed as soon as possible. The other has already made an impression on one of the Vols’ most prominent leaders.
The Vols are always looking for offensive linemen. Tennessee football did a masterful job of handling injuries up front on offense during the regular season in 2023. They’ll have to replace right tackle Darnell Wright, who announced he was off to the NFL, and Jerome Carvin, who is a senior and out of eligibility.
There’s plenty of offseason to work out who will step in for those Vols, but Andrej Karic seems to have a head start. The transfer from Texas has already made an impression on UT center Cooper Mays. Karic closed his recruitment and committed to Tennessee shortly after a visit to Knoxville in mid-December. Mays was a part of the group that hosted the coveted transfer, who played extensively for the Longhorns this season.
“Got to know him and just was around him a little bit,” Mays said. “He’s he’s a great kid, a cool guy. You know, he’s in the same (2020) class as me. It’s one thing to hang out with a high schooler and they probably got their priorities a little bit different. But he’s the guy that wants to come in here and and just do the things the right way and and just help us get better. So I’m a big fan of him. He’s he’s a great kid.”
Karic actually started three games for the Longhorns as a blocking tight end and played in all 12 games for Texas in 2022. Just being able to play tight end is a good sign for a Tennessee football offense that requires its offensive linemen to have good mobility. However, Karic’s tight end days are likely behind him. He looks destined for tackle, but guard could also be a possibility.
“Not sure yet,” Mays said when asked what position Karic, who is 6-foot-5 and 306 pounds, might play. “I think any guy like that that is big enough will get an opportunity at both spots. You know, he’s big enough where he can play any spot on the line. He’s right in that middle area. So just wherever he has an opportunity to grow and whatever spot he fills into. That’s really up to him. He’s got to make his way and make his own spot.”
Another midterm player making his way and trying to fill an open spot is midterm enrollee McCallan Castles, who transferred from UC-Davis. Castles has every chance to make an impact quickly. The Vols will lose their go-to tight end in 2022. Senior Princeton Fant will finish his UT career in the Orange Bowl next week. Senior tight end Jacob Warren has another year of eligibility left, but he hasn’t announced if he’ll return or opt out for the NFL.
“McCallen is a guy that came in and he was kind of shy at first,” Warren said. “He wasn’t intimidated, but he was just kind of quiet at first and then kind of getting to talk to us more and just kind of being around us at practice and in meetings, has definitely opened up and I think fits really well in our room…(I) have watched some of his film and he’s very good athlete, very good with the ball in his hands and I think will be a good addition to the team.”
There’s a learning curve for a player from a smaller school that transfers to Tennessee football. That was apparent at chow time recently. Tennessee’s training table can compete with the best in the country. Castles wasn’t used to that.
“’We paid for all of our food,’” Warren recalled McCallan saying this week. “‘We went to a grocery store and we cooked, we cooked our food or we went out to eat or whatever’ and we’re literally sitting there (at UT) eating like steak and pasta and broccoli and stuff that other people are making for us…I’m sure he is more than grateful to be at a place like Tennessee where you pretty much have everything that you need or that you could want right there at your fingertips.”
There’s plenty of time for incoming players to determine a pecking order and no starting decisions are pending. However, it seems Castles and Karic are off to a good start.