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Developing Tennessee QB Nico Iamaleava the next step for Vols coach Josh Heupel

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One would have thought that Tennessee was returning an experienced quarterback given the Vols’ opening press conference of spring practice. Redshirt freshman Nico Iamaleava was almost an after thought.

There was only one question volleyed at Tennessee coach Josh Heupel about Iamaleava when he met with the media on Monday and it wasn’t overly probing as reporters asked about building around the redshirt freshman and what kind of leadership the California native has shown so far. 

Heupel said he and his program know enough about Iamaleava, who started the Citrus Bowl last season and played in several games, to start playing to his many strong suits.

“We’ll tinker with some of that through spring ball,” Heupel said. “…the things that you feel like are best for us collectively and for him…kind of honing in on those things as we get into training camp.”

There’s no question that there’s an anticipation around Iamaleava that probably hasn’t been present since former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning returned for his senior season in 1997. Such is often the case when playing the most important position on the field.

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“You got the ball in your hands,” Heupel said. “Everybody’s paying attention to that position. Better have some of those (leadership) traits right from the jump. The hard thing is a young quarterback on the leadership side of it is you’re still pushing extremely hard on the the growth and mastering of our offense, mastering what’s going on on the other side of the ball. 

“He does a phenomenal job in one-on-one situations, communication with wide receivers. The growth, his voice within our entire program. He’s got to continue to grow in that role. That’s something that is true for every young quarterback. So, you expect him to continue to mold into that. 

In other words, Iamaleava, five-star prospect or not, is far from a finished product. That’s what spring practice is for. Now that Iamaleava can truly call the Vols his team, he won’t be an after thought much longer.

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