Why Nico Iamaleava is Tennessee’s Biggest Recruit in a Decade

    by -

    Five-star California quarterback Nico Iamaleava has been making waves across Knoxville in the last week.

    The week began with Iamaleava blasting photos out of himself in town and having the Vols’ student section chant in his name in front of a sold-out home basketball crowd. Then, later in the week, predictions started to trend Tennessee’s direction from national recruiting analysts across the country. And now, as the weekend has gone on, things have reached a fever pitch.

    At the time of this publication, On3’s Recruiting Prediction Machine gives Tennessee an 83.4 percent chance to land the five-star prospect.

    The more you look at what Iamaleava can bring to the table on the field and can provide for Tennessee off the field, the more it becomes clear why five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava is Tennessee’s biggest recruit in the last decade.

    For starters, if Iamaleava does commit, he will immediately become Tennessee’s fifth-highest recruit in program history according to 247 Sports. In addition, Iamaleava would be Tennessee’s highest-rated quarterback since Casey Clausen in the class of 2000.

    Since 2011/2012, the Vols’ highest-rated recruit was Kahlil McKenzie from the class of 2015. And while Iamaleava would still come in two spots behind McKenzie in the program history rankings, Iamaleava’s position as a quarterback is enough to shorten the distance.

    As one of the top three quarterbacks in the class of 2023, Iamaleava is immediately a player that recruits will want to rally around. High school prospects are more than smart enough to communicate with each other and follow the momentum at different places. And an elite quarterback, maybe more than any other position, is one that people will follow.

    On the grass, Iamaleava is a field general.

    “[Iamaleava] has made huge strides over the last year in terms of his pocket feel, ability to throw on time and anticipate,” 247 Sports’ Greg Biggins said in an evaluation. “He always had a big arm but can now change speeds, go through progressions and make accurate touch throws down the field look easy. He has exceptional escapability and is just as dangerous outside the pocket as he is throwing in it.”

    Tennessee Recruiting: Tennessee Gaining Momentum in Nico Iamaleava Recruitment

    Not to mention, with a 6-foot-6, 195-pound frame, Iamaleava can extend a play with his legs and is tough to bring down.

    In his first season at Tennessee, Josh Heupel was able to transform former Virginia Tech transfer quarterback Hendon Hooker into a dual-threat machine leading one of the fastest offenses in the country. The Vols’ offense was ranked ninth nationally in offensive points per game, just showing how much of an impact and understanding Heupel has of the offensive side of the ball.

    Pairing up a mind like Josh Heupel with the natural talent, skill, and size of Nico Iamaleava seems like a perfect match.

    Off the field, Iamaleava is still a general among his peers.

    “He’s a natural leader with a high compete level and a great off the field work ethic,” Biggins said for 247 Sports. “There are zero character concerns with him and he’s a future captain who other players gravitate towards.”

    Going back to using Hooker as an example, his leadership throughout the season was a big reason for the stability in Tennessee’s locker room – especially in year one. Routinely throughout the season, there were situations that highlighted Hooker’s ability, as the starting quarterback, to kick the team into gear. With all the reports about the high school player that Iamaleava has been, it seems as though he has the same natural leadership characteristics that Hooker has.

    The stats are all there. On3 Sports’ consensus rankings have Nico Iamaleava as the fifth-ranked player in the class, the third-ranked quarterback in the class, and the second-ranked player from the state of California. And according to evaluations and reports, the intangibles are all there as well.

    If Tennessee and Josh Heupel can land a commitment from five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava, it may very well be Tennessee’s biggest and most important recruit in the last decade.

    Ric Butler is a Knoxville based sports media personality who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 2017. Most recently, he served as the lead writer for the website of a local radio station. Ric also helped create and host a daily radio show called “The Blitz." Ric’s passion for sports, smooth vocal, and infectious personality have made him popular with both his peers and Vol Nation. Originally from Dallas, Ric didn’t grow up riding horses to school. But he did dream of the big city lights. When not chasing down the latest Tennessee story, Ric can be found watching the WWE, often attempting their moves in an embarrassing fashion.