With the 2023 football season winding down, is it too early to start focusing on what could happen in 2024 – especially at the quarterback position? If you’re a fan of QB Nico Iamaleava, next year can’t come soon enough.
The excitement over the highly-touted freshman is palpable, but is Iamaleava ready to lead Tennessee’s offense? That’s the question that every UT fan is asking. Now, Iamaleava’s travel roommate, tight end Jacob Warren (and Iamaleava’s road roommate) shared his thoughts on the young QB’s future with the program on the latest edition of The Vol Report.
As the backup to senior Joe Milton III, Iamaleava has spent most of the season watching from the sidelines. Though this might be a humbling experience for the star high school quarterback, Iamaleava is handling things in stride.
“I think he knows, regardless of how highly recruited he was or whatever people want to talk about. He’s pretty humble,” Warren said of Iamaleava. “He has an understanding of the situation at hand. And I think he’s taking the opportunity to learn as much as he can from Joe (Milton) and from (quarterbacks) Coach Halzle and even (third-string quarterback) Gaston Moore.”
The young quarterback has made 7 of 14 pass attempts for 97 yards in the limited action he has seen in his first season. With the short amount of playing time, is Iamaleava mentally prepared to take over next year?
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the kid is extremely talented… he will be very good for this program,” said Warren. “I think he knows that. He’s trying to take it all in and absorb everything that he can so he can be really, really confident going into next year’s quarterback battle. He’ll have to earn a spot. But yeah, he’s definitely getting to that point where he’ll be ready.”
What about the physicality needed to be a starting quarterback for a serious contender like Tennessee? Does the 6’6”, 206 lb freshman need to bulk up before taking the starter job?
“You know, I was in a pretty similar boat myself, right when I came to college,” Warren recalled. “I was not physically ready to play. And, I think as a player, you are aware that it’s going to take some time before (you will) physically feel comfortable and ready to go out there and perform at the highest level.”
According to Warren’s observations, Iamaleava is well aware of what needs to be done to get him to that next level.
“He knows (weight gain) is the part of his game he needs to be focusing on,” said Warren. “I definitely know since he’s gotten here he has put on weight and looked bigger and more muscular. I’m sure we’ll see a totally different guy come next fall.”
Like any good player, Iamaleava’s skills will improve as he gets the experience to play in meaningful games. In the meantime, he’s taking advice from Tennessee’s established quarterback.
“Joe’s been on him… (telling Iamaleava) you know exactly what you need to be doing,” said Warren. “Don’t tell me after the play. Just do it. Just trust your gut and go out there and do it.”
Some have argued Iamaleava should play this season to get more game repetitions with no championship left for the Vols to play for. No matter when Iamaleava plays, Milton has done his best to get his understudy prepared.
“Joe’s trying to relay (to Iamaleava) that these guys got to believe you,” Warren noted. “They have to trust that you’re going to let it rip whenever you need to. Being able to make every throw on the field is something that Nico will excel at in the future.”