Joe Milton doesn’t look at himself as “Hendon Hooker’s replacement from injury,” if you will. And after all the work and the reps that Milton has put into the Tennessee program over the last two years, he has earned that right.
“I see myself as Tennessee’s starting quarterback,” Milton said on Wednesday with a confident tone. “That’s my title as I am but I am also just a football player that’s trying to lead the team.”
Milton is preparing for his fourth game as Tennessee’s starting quarterback and his second this year after the Vanderbilt game to close the regular season. Still, though, Milton found a ton of reps during clean-up duties throughout the year. Prior to his start against the Commodores, Milton threw for 573 yards and six touchdowns on 23 attempts as the backup to Hooker.
“It helps a lot, for one,” Milton said about his growth taking more of the reps during the bowl practices. “But two, even when I wasn’t starting, I was taking reps behind Hendon (Hooker). Every rep he had, I had to take. So, having more reps is a plus. Getting a feel for everything at the one-position is a tremendous jump. It’s the ball game, so you have to do what you have to do.”
Tennessee’s players and coaches share their confidence in quarterback Joe Milton III leading into his first start of the season.
➡️ Jabari Small
➡️ Cooper Mays
➡️ Josh Heupel
➡️ Joey Halzle pic.twitter.com/Kxq9MxKuPy
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) November 23, 2022
More from RTI: Clemson’s Freshman Quarterback Set to Pose a Challenge to Tennessee’s Defense
Even though Milton does feel comfortable as he embraces the role of Tennessee’s starting quarterback, there is a somewhat hidden elephant in the room regarding the starting quarterback position next year with Hooker moving to professional football. Milton will compete with sophomore quarterback Tayven Jackson and freshman Nico Iamaleava for the chance to lead the Vols’ team.
Although that is quite a ways away, Milton is looking to simultaneously end the season on a good note while also getting a solid head start on next season.
“Kind of both,” Milton said about the two options listed above. “We have to finish it off, obviously, for our brother Hendon (Hooker). He put a lot into the program, and if he was out there, he’d be playing his heart out. I feel like that’s what we’ll do as a team. Besides that part, it’s just getting a start for the new year. The game is played on the 30th, so it’s going into a new year. You get to sleep right on the first.”
Milton’s teammates have confidence in him, too. With Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman both opting out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft, Milton will rely more on breakout star receiver Bru McCoy in Hard Rock Stadium.
“Me and him have always had a great relationship from when I first got here,” McCoy said about Milton on Wednesday. “He’s one of the guys that kind of helped me get more involved. With him stepping up and being the guy this game, me and him have taken reps. I’m confident, I think we’re both confident in one another. We’ve already got a great rapport. We’re just going to continue to build on it. We’ve got a good opportunity here to go showcase that.”
Joe Milton III, Bru McCoy, and the No. 6 Tennessee Volunteers will take on No. 7 Clemson on Friday, Dec. 30 in the Capital One Orange Bowl from Miami, Florida.