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Josh Heupel shares how he balances expectations for Nico Iamaleava

Barkley-Truaxby:Barkley Truax08/17/23


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Nico Iamaleava gets an entire year to manage his expectations at Tennessee while Joe Milton does his thing as QB1 during the 2023 season. That time given to develop under the radar is doing wonders for his game aleady, according to Vols coach Josh Heupel.

“When you have to grow, you have to grow. You have to be pushed. When we install it, he’s running everything,” Heupel said during the second week of fall camp. “You’ve heard me say that when they finish spring ball and when they come back at the beginning of training camp, they should be a different player. He’s a different player.

“He has great command and understanding of what we’re doing. He understands protections. He understands how he has to get us out of run-run checks, pass-run checks, or whatever it might be. He hasn’t been perfect, but he’s grown.”

Iamaleava comes to Knoxville as the highest-rated quarterback recruit to commit to Tennessee since Peyton Manning in 1994.

At most programs, expectations would be for him to perform well right away. No one would have been surprised if the prodigy started for Josh Heupel’s squad on day one — and Iamaleava is doing all he can to develop into a starting SEC quarterback by the first game — but having Milton to learn under for a year before it’s his turn with the keys is something all parties feel more comfortable doing at this point.

Iamaleava now has the opportunity to hone in on the finer points of Heupel’s offense as he makes the transition to starting quarterback this time next year.

“One of the things that we’ve talked about is not making the same mistake twice. He doesn’t make the same mistake twice. He learns from it,” Heupel said after the Vols’ first fall camp scrimmage. “There was a rep where as he was going through his reading progression. There was a tight window on the inside, he throws the ball and while he’s standing in the pocket, you can see him visually be like, ‘Hey man, I should’ve gotten to the next one outside.’ He’s intentional and has great work habits.”

If the former five-star recruit can keep performing at a high level on the practice field, the Vols should expect to continue its renewed dominance in the SEC for years to come, and Iamaleava has the unique opportunity to be the face of Tennessee’s efforts.