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Tennessee Football: Josh Heupel’s handling of Nico Iamaleava should help Vols on the recruiting trail

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We could debate for eons about how Tennessee Football quarterback Nico Iamaleava’s era has been handled thus far. Let’s not. Well, just a bit.

Let’s primarily move on, now that former starting quarterback Joe Milton has decided to forgo the Citrus Bowl in order to prepare for the NFL Draft, and forget about Milton holding the Vols hostage while he made up his mind. That’s old news. Now the Vols have a newfound spark about their program that is far more exciting than playing Iowa.

I’m not suggesting one book a flight to Orlando just because Iamaleava will start against the Hawkeyes, but it might be worth the trip. Per multiple sources to Off The Hook Sports, Iamaleava has left virtually no doubt to those inside the Tennessee Football program that the freshman will be an elite player based on his approach to the game and practice performances. So why didn’t he play earlier? That is a topic for another day.

Iamaleava’s value and his depth-chart climb should help the Vols two-fold in recruiting. First, head coach Josh Heupel has proven to prospective athletes that he isn’t afraid to play an underclassman once he sees the time is right. That’s evident by him simply having Iamaleava ready to play with a high number of practice snaps throughout the season. 

Sources told Off The Hook Sports that Iamaleava has been receiving 50-percent of the first team practice snaps for weeks. In other words, be it a bowl game opt out, an injury or a few more poor performances, the Vols certainly didn’t just begin preparing for Iamaleava to make his much-anticipated debut recently. The debut may have been late, but the right steps in practice to make Iamaleava shine have been taken. Parents of recruited Tennessee prospects should take note. Heupel did two things that should make a prospect’s family feel incredibly comfortable with Tennessee.

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First, Heupel gave Milton every opportunity to lose the starting qurarterback job at Tennessee out of respect for his leadership and willingness to stick it out last season in 2022 when it was obvious he wasn’t going to overcome superstar quarterback Hendon Hooker. Second, Heupel let Milton leave on his own, albeit odd, terms by making his announcement just days before the game in which he was supposed to participate in. Then, there’s a third reason why Heupel won the public relations game – sort of.

Heupel undoubtedly promised Iamaleava he’d be the Tennessee Football starter sooner rather than later. Iamaleava didn’t sign with Tennessee to ride the pine for three years. He came to play as soon as possible, which just happens to be the perfect time to give Iamaleava a shot, except for weeks earlier, but that’s a topic for another day.

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