Joe Milton has some big shoes to fill on Rocky Top, looking to replace Hendon Hooker. He got off to a good start at the end of the 2022 season, taking down Vanderbilt and then Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Starting the year as the starting quarterback is a whole different challenge though, especially from a leadership standpoint.
Thankfully for Milton, he has been with Tennessee for a few years now. He thinks being Hooker’s backup actually helped him build relationships with his teammates. While Hooker was busy prepping as the starter and at times, being the face of the program, Milton was able to connect with the guys around him.
“I think that’s where the backup quarterback role came into play,” Milton said. “You get to understand guys more. Hendon was busy last year, right? It was just how it was this off-season. I’m here and I wasn’t just taking the trips. Last year he came here, right?
“I mean, same thing for Nico (Iamaleava). Nico is at school right now working out with the guys. There’s an opportunity to build as a backup, however you may name it. It’s an opportunity to build amongst the team.”
Until thrown into action following Hooker’s ACL tear, Milton spent nearly two seasons as the backup quarterback. Originally named the starter to begin the 2021 season, Milton eventually sat down once Huepel decided to roll with Hooker.
Tennessee has reaped the benefits of Milton’s mentality throughout the entire process. He is now going to be an experienced college football player who is incredibly well-respected in the program. Everybody is going to be willing to play for the quarterback on Saturdays, hoping to continue the Vols’ success on the field.
Milton revealed one way he makes sure everyone gets involved. The quarterback has a ton of personal handshakes with his teammates, no matter where they sit on the depth chart. A nice touch for Milton a truly a way to have the entire roster on your side.
“For me, my best way to get connection with guys is handshakes,” Milton said. “As a man, as a quarterback, I got handshakes with guys that barely even played, but that makes them feel special.
“That’s what I’m willing to do. I want guys to feel special on the team. Doesn’t matter if they play or not, right? They contribute on the team, so they matter.”