One of the most anticipated Tennessee football players in program history finally hit the podium to officially describe what it’s like to actually be a Vol after months of speculation.
Nico Iamaleava was calm in his first press conference on Thursday after he and his teammates wrapped up spring practice. The freshman quarterback was first asked about how NIL money, reportedly $8-million to sign with Tennessee, might ratchet up the pressure on him.
“No, no pressure man,” Iamaleava said dismissing such a notion. “Next question.”
And that was that. Iamaleava chose not to elaborate on his reported recruiting agreement. However, he was happy to talk about his play during the first week of spring camp, his work during offseason workouts and even his time spent as a Vol during Tennessee’s preparation in January for Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Iamaleava has spent as much time as possible learning from senior Joe Milton III, who is widely expected to be the starter this fall.
“It’s been slowing down for the past couple of days, not really thinking too much as I was on the first day,” Iamaleava said of the pace of practice. “So really, just taking everything from Joe, come and just, learn from him day by day.”
Iamaleava said he’s currently close to the 210 pounds after showing up on campus at about 198 pounds. The 6-foot-6 athlete said he would like weigh around 215 to 220 pounds by the beginning of the season.
Iamaleava didn’t explain why he changed jersey numbers from No. 8 to No. 12. However, that is most likely a coaching tactic to make Iamaleava “earn” his preferred jersey number. That seems to be the case, along with the fact that Iamaleava took fourth-team snaps to begin spring camp.
Earning his number will depend largely on how Iamaleava handles Tennessee’s tempo during spring practice. The Vols ran one of the fastest offenses in the nation last season. That’s a bit faster than what Iamaleava was asked to run in high school.
“We ran tempo, obviously,” Iamaleava said, “but our tempo isn’t like Tennessee, so it’s a big jump from from high school to college.”
When asked to elaborate on Tennessee’s tempo, Iamaleava said, “When you’re actually in the offense, there’s a whole different ball game. So just getting that tempo down it’s way different than just watching it from the stands”
Iamaleava said he’s starting to be recognized on campus when he’s riding his scooter from class to class and has even been approached in Knoxville restaurants since arriving on campus in December. While Iamaleava has been noticed in town, his teammates and players have taken note of something as well.
Multiple players and coaches have said they’ve noticed that making a mistake isn’t acceptable for Iamaleava. A misstep during practice can be irritating for the Californian prep star. That just drives Iamaleava harder. Clearly his expectations aren’t just to simply sit behind Milton despite his elder’s mentorship.
“Joe’s been great, like a big brother to me when I first came here, really just rallying troops around us, getting everybody to buy-in,” Iamaleava said.
As far as those expectations, Iamaleava said he just wants to be ready when called and “help Joe out the best way possible I can.”
Is Iamaleava ready to push Milton for the starting position? No question.
“I’m always looking to get better and be ready for this year,” Iamaleava said. “You know it’s my job to go out there and and compete and be ready when my number’s called.”