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‘Don’t Play Timid’: Joey Halzle’s Message to Tennessee QB Nico Iamaleava

Nico Iamaleava
Tennessee quarterback Nico Iamaleava with Joe Milton III at practice in Knoxville. Photo by Rocky Top Insider/Ric Butler.

Tennessee offensive coordinator Joey Halzle believes in the idea that this spring is the perfect time to mess up. Especially when it comes to the freshmen in the room.

With so many things flying at these freshmen enrollees in the first few months, Halzle understands that mistakes are going to be made in spring workouts. But in his mind, this is the time for mistakes to happen, so that they can be corrected in the most infant stages possible.

One of the areas that Halzle will be watching closely is the quarterback room. Halzle, Tennessee’s quarterback coach over the last two years, has now added No. 1 overall recruit Nico Iamaleava to that room with a whole lot of excitement behind that name.

“With the numbers in that room, there are a lot of reps to go around, which is completely different from the last couple of years that we were here,” Halzle said about how much of a benefit it is for Iamaleava to get consistent reps this spring. “It is huge.”

Including Iamaleava, Tennessee has welcomed in nearly the entire 2023 recruiting class onto campus already. While some of those players did get to go through Orange Bowl practices, others have come later in the month of January as everyone looks forward to spring football camp starting in March.

“The biggest thing about freshmen getting here, whether it is December for bowl practice or in spring ball, is they get a chance to mess it up,” Halzle continued on to say. “They are going to, I have told them that. ‘You are going to mess it up, do not play timid, do not play slow trying to be right, play fast as you can, rip it all over the field, make your mistakes, we will come into the film room and learn from them, and we will go back out there and try to make less each day as we are moving forward.’ It gives you the chance that, when fall camp comes around, they are not trying to figure out what to do, they have run all of this before, they have seen all of these different defensive looks, and now they are finding themselves as a player and how they operate in the system, which now gives you a chance to actually go operate with live fire in the fall.”

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During his introductory press conference as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator in early February, Halzle continued to compliment Iamaleava. While, yes, he is making throws on the field, Halzle spoke more about Iamaleava’s dedication to the process, wanting to nail down the details as early as he can in his Tennessee tenure.

“[Nico Iamaleava] came back this January and he had transferred all of his notes to his iPad that he had,” Halzle said. “He knows a lot of the way we call stuff, the way we take our drops, all of that when he first got on campus is monumental. Now, you can start going into the details of actually playing the quarterback position because he has a firm understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish when we’re calling plays.”

With all the excitement of Tennessee’s third-highest recruit in program history arriving in Knoxville, Iamaleava began his journey with the Volunteers in mid-December as the Vols were gearing up for Orange Bowl practices. Iamaleava and the other freshmen helped run scout team as Tennessee prepared for Clemson. After Iamaleava and the other early enrollees traveled to Miami with the team for that Orange Bowl game, the highly-touted recruit then went all the way to Hawaii to play in the Polynesian Bowl, where he would be named the game MVP after finishing with 186 passing yards, one touchdown, and one interception on 13-of-20 passing.

“He’s young, he’s got to learn, but I thought it was great that he got to go play football with us in December, and then go play more football [in the Polynesian Bowl], and then come back so you’re not two months off your high school career the first time you’re picking up a ball again,” Halzle said about Iamaleava. “I thought that was really beneficial for him. I love when the guys can go play their all-star games, it’s a cool experience for them. It’s something that they’ve earned over their career, we would never take away someone’s ability to go play in an all-star game.”

Tennessee and quarterback Nico Iamaleava will begin spring practices on Monday, March 20.

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