ESPN Dubs Tennessee Commit ‘NILionare Nico’ in Recent Highlight Video

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    There have been some seriously good nicknames for Tennessee athletes in the past.

    Let’s go down the list, shall we? Josh “AstroDobbs” Dobbs, “The Iceman” Casey Clausen, “The Sherriff” Peyton Manning, “The Minister of Defense” Reggie White, James “Little Man” Stewart, “The Volunteer Fireman” Ben Joyce, and, a personal favorite, Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds.

    The connecting thread between all of those nicknames is that they were earned or given because of their domination of the field – Peyton Manning operated offenses like a sheriff patrolling a Wild West town or Ben Joyce delivering record-breaking fastballs to bring the heat.

    Now, it looks like there’s a new nickname on the horizon. In a short-form feature video highlighting the success of Nico Iamaleava at a recent 7-on-7 tournament, ESPN dubbed the Tennessee quarterback commit “NILionaire Nico”.

    “This is NILionaire Nico, and he is considered to be one of the biggest recruits the Tennessee Volunteers have ever landed,” the video’s narrator states.

    The video comes from NFL on ESPN‘s Facebook post.

    Nico Iamaleava, a supremely talented pocket-passer quarterback from California, committed to Tennessee back in late March. At the time, a report from On3 stated that a recruit had just inked a NIL deal reportedly worth eight million dollars. Once Iamaleava committed to Tennessee, the rumor mill singled him out as the reported and mysterious “8-million-dollar-kid”.

    Then, in April, Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin singled out the player in “East Tennessee”, which was clearly Iamaleava, while feverishly discussing the current direction of college football on The Rich Eisen Show.

    “You’re going to have all these locker room dynamics where now you’re reading, you got a player coming into school over there in East Tennessee for $8 million dollars that hasn’t played a down,” Kiffin said while responding to a question about NIL and the transfer portal. “And you’ve got a locker room saying, ‘Wait, now what if the guy doesn’t play? How’s that going to work? How is that donor going to feel, that paid all that money, when the guy’s not playing?’ So you’ve got a lot of things that haven’t been figured out at all.”

    The rapid evolution of the college football landscape is easily examined in Iamaleava’s situation. In March, when the eight-million-dollar story came out, it was the talk of the college football world as people tried to wrap their heads around such a large number for a high school recruit. Now, fast forward to June of the same year. Over the weekend, On3 Sports reported that Florida had just been turned down after reportedly offering 2023 recruit Jaden Rashada an offer for 11 million dollars. Rashada turned down the Gators in favor of Miami, who reportedly landed the recruit for a 9.5 million dollar deal.

    The point is, what was hard to imagine in March is hardly even the bar-setting story as the summer opens up just a handful of months later.

    There’s very, very little chance that the NILionare Nico nickname will stay, for a few different reasons. On one hand, if the Tennessee fanbase isn’t catching on, it’s not going to catch on. Period. But on the other hand, it’s more of a tongue-in-cheek nod from the content creator as opposed to a real nickname. Iamaleava will have the chance to earn a historic nickname on the field, like countless other Tennessee athletes… but this one probably won’t be it.

    You can’t say it isn’t clever, though.

    In April, following his commitment to Tennessee, Rocky Top Insider caught up with Iamaleava at the Pylon 7-on-7 tournament that was held at Farragut High School. The five-star Tennessee quarterback commit dazzled audiences and scouts as he slung the ball through freezing cold rain and sleet. Iamaleava had unbelievable accuracy in a series of games throughout the tournament that highlighted some of the premier wide receiver and defensive back talent in the country.

    “I’m committed and I’m all in,” Iamaleava said in an interview with Rocky Top Insider. “I’m really just having a great time [in Knoxville].”

    Earlier in June, Iamaleava was in Las Vegas for the Overtime 7-on-7 Tournament, which is where the highlights in the first video are from. Iamaleava dominated the competition and was named to 247’s tournament “Dream Team” and was also named the tournament MVP from On3.

    If Nico Iamaleava can bring that MVP style of play to Knoxville, there’s a pretty good chance he ends up with one of those historic nicknames.

    Check out Rocky Top Insider’s highlights for Nico Iamaleava below.

    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.