Nico Iamaleava now in ‘whole different ballgame’ with Vols

Tennessee Athletics photo by Kate Luffman / Tennessee five-star freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava goes through Monday's opening day of spring practice inside the Anderson Training Center.

Getting introduced to Tennessee's frenetic offensive pace has a way of humbling the newcomers, even five-star talents like quarterback Nico Iamaleava.

"You can watch it all day and all night, but when you're actually in the offense, it's a whole different ballgame," Iamaleava said Thursday in his first news conference since his anticipated arrival this past December. "It's way different from watching it in the stands."

Iamaleava gave Tennessee a gargantuan and much-needed recruiting jolt with his commitment last March, and he signed with the Volunteers as's No. 2 overall prospect nationally behind Texas quarterback Arch Manning. He was third nationally in the composite rankings behind Manning and Alabama edge rusher Keon Keeley.

Yet all that recruiting fanfare is now in the rearview mirror, as the 6-foot-6, 210-pounder from Long Beach, California, is inhaling a new system with the hopes of being a dependable backup later this year to sixth-year senior Joe Milton III.

"It's been super fun learning from Joe and learning the whole playbook," Iamaleava said. "It's been slowing down a little for me these last couple of days. I'm not thinking too much like I was that first day. The tempo is what I'm still trying to get down and moving the offense — not as fast as Joe, but just keeping the same tempo as him so there is no drop-off.

"It's been a big jump from high school to college."

The Vols held their third spring practice Thursday and will conduct their fourth workout Saturday.

Iamaleava, who threw for 1,726 yards, rushed for 399 yards and totaled 31 touchdowns last season as a Warren County senior, wore No. 8 during Tennessee's practices for December's Orange Bowl but is now in jersey No. 12. He arrived at 198 pounds and is more than halfway to his objective of being between 215 and 220 for Tennessee's opener Sept. 2 against Virginia in Nashville.

"He's been really good," Tennessee third-year quarterbacks coach and first-year offensive coordinator Joey Halzle said Thursday. "He's mature beyond his years. He doesn't act like a freshman, but with that being said, the first time you take the field going from high school to college, it's fast. We put as much on the quarterback as anybody in the country, if not more, so it's a lot.

"He's handling it well with a great attitude. He stays positive and competitive, and he lets his athleticism take over, too, which is fun to watch."

Halzle has told Iamaleava he can expect to make his share of mistakes this spring as he learns new defensive structures and, knowing that, to not play timid. Iamaleava said Milton "has been like a big brother to me" and plans to enter his debut season knowing he is only a snap away.

"My expectations for my freshman year are to just be ready," he said. "I'm trying to get as prepared as fast as I can, because I want to be ready for this year. It's my job to go out there and compete and be ready when my number is called, like how Joe was to Hendon (Hooker) last year."

Failing forward

Iamaleava is among Tennessee's six offensive midyear enrollees who have made the jump from high school, a list that includes the four-star trio of running back Cameron Seldon, receiver Nathan Leacock and tight end Ethan Davis.

"Getting to go through spring ball allows you to make mistakes and fail forward," Halzle said. "When you go through fall camp and the real bullets start flying, you're not making those initial freshman mistakes — knowing the call, seeing the signal, getting cleats in the ground and those types of things. You get to do that now, and when you get back in August, you get to play the way you know how to play.

"Right now, we're getting to fail forward every single day."

Move on, please

When Iamaleava was asked if there was any added pressure to succeed given the massive NIL deal he reportedly was given to sign with the Vols, he said: "No pressure, man. Next question."

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