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Tennessee Football: Nico Iamaleava finding role for Vols, ‘not nervous’

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There were plenty of important things that happened during Nico Iamaleava’s recruiting process. First, the Tennessee Football quarterback showed off his play-making ability, which he did again in the Orange and White Game. Second, Iamaleava found the kind of person he could respect even while competing against him.

No Tennessee coach, especially not head coach Josh Heupel was surprised when Iamaleava hit tight end Ethan Davis while throwing on the run on Saturday. That was the kind of highlight that Tennessee fans hope to grow used to seeing. 

“His ability to do those things is certainly a skill set that was important to us in the recruiting process,” Heupel said of Iamaleava. “He does have a really good feel for a young guy inside of the pocket: when to step up, when to escape out of the back(field). He’s dynamic and explosive as just an athlete, so he’s got the ability to get away from defenders. 

“You saw him make a play down the side and he did a great job on the scramble drill, wheeling it on the sideline. Really beautiful, accurate throw by Nico. He’s got the ability to get himself in great body position when he’s out in space when he’s got people chasing him and, when he doesn’t have the ability because of where the bodies are out in space, get himself in perfect position. 

“He’s still able to be accurate with the football. He’s got a really unique skillset as he’s breaking containment.”

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By all accounts, Iamaleava also has a unique perspective to be as ballyhooed as he is. Instead of being boisterous or cocky, Iamaleava most often defers to his teammates, as he did to projected starter Joe Milton III on Saturday.

“I’ve always looked up to Joe on my recruiting visits,” Iamaleava said. “When I met him, I always knew he was going to be there for me when I got in here. It’s been tremendous. He’s been a real big brother helping me out with the offense and everything, the playbook and stuff. Off the field too, we’re like brothers. It’s been a cool ride with us.” 

Certainly, there were reasons for Iamaleava to be nervous in his first game-like conditions as a Vols. There were fans, officials and the game was in Neyland Stadium instead of on a practice field. Iamaleava didn’t seem to be concerned.

“I was not nervous,” Iamaleava said. “I think for me, at the end of the day, it’s just football. You go out there, play and have fun…I played okay. I thought we could have scored more when we got to the red zone and finished drives off. We are working. We will get to that point where it is green when we get down in the red zone. I thought overall as an offense we did okay.”

Milton was in a much different position last year. He was the quarterback expected to sit and watch during the fall as former Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker grasped the starter’s reigns. Despite the change in playing status, thing have stayed pretty status quo for Milton

“Nothing has pretty much changed,” Milton said. “I kind of go every day as I was last year, just preparing and getting ready because you never know when your time is called. Just like last year, I didn’t know my time was called, just kept repping it, kept getting better and pushing Hendon. 

“Now, I get more reps and I get to talk to Nico and the rest of the quarterback room, Gaston (Moore) and Navy (Shuler). I get more reps in the mental aspect of it, just because I have to explain it to someone else. It also prepped you to be more prepared and when those situations come.”

Those situations will be here soon.

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