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Nico Iamaleava Joins Peyton Manning in Noteworthy Tennessee Statistic

Nico Iamaleava
Tennessee quarterback Nico Iamaleava speaking with the media in Knoxville. Photo via Tennessee Athletics.

After starting all 12 games of the 2023 regular season, Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III is turning the keys to the Vols’ offense over to freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava.

Milton announced on Wednesday morning that he will be opting out of the Citrus Bowl in order to start preparation for the NFL Draft, thus allowing the former highly-ranked freshman quarterback Iamaleava his first start for Josh Heupel’s Big Orange unit.

Milton will be in Orlando with the Vols for the bowl game but will not play. That means that offense will be entirely in Iamaleava’s hands are he prepares to lead the Vols into the 2024 football season.

With Iamaleava starting for the Vols, the freshman quarterback joins a very short, impressive list.

According to Tennessee spokesperson Bill Martin, Iamaleava will be the fourth true freshman quarterback to start a bowl game for the Vols. The other three include Tyler Bray, Casey Clausen, and Peyton Manning.

More from RTI: ‘Excited To Go Play With Him’: Heupel Discusses Nico Iamaleava Starting In Citrus Bowl

Bray played in nine games during his freshman season but started the final five games of the season including the 2010 Music City Bowl. Bray led the Vols to four straight wins but fell to North Carolina in the double-overtime bowl game by a score of 30-27. While many Vol fans remember the 2010 Music City Bowl as one of the strangest and most controversial games in Tennessee history, Bray threw for 312 yards on 27-of-45 passing with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Bray was the third Tennessee freshman quarterback to start a bowl game, making Casey Clausen the second quarterback to do so during the 2001 Cotton Bowl against the Kansas State Wildcats. Clausen took over as Tennessee’s starting quarterback during the Third Saturday in October ballgame against Alabama on October 21, 2000. Clausen didn’t have his best performance against the Wildcats in the bowl game, throwing for 120 yards on 7-of-25 passing with one touchdown and three interceptions.

Clausen and Bray rebounded from the losses, though. Tyler Bray finished his career as Tennessee’s fourth-leading all-time passer while Casey Clausen ended his as the Vols’ second-leading passer.

The first freshman quarterback to ever start a bowl game for the Big Orange was none other than Peyton Manning in the 1994 Gator Bowl. Manning’s Vols defeated Virginia Tech by a score of 45-23 with the future Pro Football Hall of Famer throwing for 189 yards on 12-of-19 passing with one touchdown with no interceptions.

Manning ended his career as Tennessee’s all-time leading passer with 11,201 yards.

While it’s clearly no guarantee, and likely a little reckless to even speculate on, Iamaleava’s statistical company as freshman quarterbacks to start the bowl game puts him on a list with three of Tennessee’s four all-time leading passers.

Nico Iamaleava has played in four games for Tennessee so far this year: vs Virginia, vs UTSA, vs UConn, and vs Vanderbilt.

The former five-star quarterback completed 16-of-26 passes for 163 yards and one touchdown during his four games in the regular season this past year.

Iamaleava and the No. 21 Vols will take on No. 17 Iowa in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl at 1:00 p.m. ET on New Year’s Day from Orlando, Florida.

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