Nathan Leacock appreciates his new gig.
Just three spring practices into his career as a Tennessee receiver, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound freshman has been catching passes from Orange Bowl MVP Joe Milton III and from five-star classmate Nico Iamaleava.
"It's way better than high school," Leacock said this week in a news conference. "The balls are more accurate, and they're tighter spirals. I like deep balls the most, and their deep balls are beautiful. Even though they're coming in really fast, they're tight spirals.
"Balls that are slower and wobbly are harder to catch, but Joe throws it on the money, and so does Nico."
The Volunteers were off Friday and will conduct their fourth spring workout Saturday morning.
Leacock was the nation's No. 73 overall prospect in the 2023 signing class, according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings, making him the highest-rated receiver to sign with Tennessee since Preston Williams in 2015. As a Millbrook High receiver in Raleigh, North Carolina, he racked up 82 receptions last fall for a school-record 1,703 yards and 23 touchdowns.
"He's a good-sized kid who can really run," Vols offensive coordinator Joey Halzle said. "When he gets out and goes and is playing decisive and fast, he has legitimate track speed, so he's a big, fast guy running down the middle of the field, which is always fun to see."
In his Millbrook career, Leacock averaged 81.4 receiving yards a game and 20.2 yards per catch.
Tennessee has a unique dynamic in that two 1,000-yard receivers, Cedric Tillman in 2021 and Jalin Hyatt last season, have moved on and are preparing for next month's NFL draft. Ramel Keyton, Bru McCoy and Squirrel White are back, however, and they went the distance in the absences of Tillman and Hyatt in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 and were effective in the 31-14 dumping of Clemson.
Leacock is looking to break into the rotation to where Tennessee doesn't have a significant drop-off for a third straight season between its starting and backup receivers in terms of playing time. That involves repeatedly working with Milton and Iamaleava to gain their trust.
"The inside slant routes are the toughest," Leacock said. "You obviously have to focus on those, because they're going to be coming in really fast. I'm just trying to work on the catches I need to work on while strengthening my strengths."
Leacock explained that Tennessee's two senior receivers are different, with McCoy leading through his words and Keyton by example, and there has been no greater adjustment, as all Vols freshmen experience, than the sheer pace of play.
"Once you get that ball, you've got to get it to the official — not the side judge, but the guy in the middle of the field," Leacock said. "You've got to do that to keep the offense moving. It's definitely an adjustment.
"In high school, you just throw it to whoever is near you."
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