- ESPN staff writer
- Joined ESPN in 2011
- Graduated from Central Michigan
Josh Heupel got a commitment from his highest-ranked prospect since joining Tennessee as head coach when ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Nico Iamaleava announced his commitment to the Vols.
Iamaleava is the No. 24 prospect in the 2023 class and the No. 4 quarterback. He’s a 6-foot-6, 195-pound signal-caller from Long Beach Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, California.
“The family vibe, the atmosphere, the culture. Having (Iamaleava’s) mom on the visit to Tennessee really solidified that she was able to experience that,” Iamaleava’s father, Nicholaus, said. “The Tennessee visit was real hands on, the (coaches’) wives came out and gave us good insight to the program. We know we’re going to be able to leave him there and they’re going to be able to care for him.”
Being so highly ranked, Iamaleava had offers from nearly every major program in the country, and he listed his final five schools as Alabama, Georgia, Miami, Tennessee and Oregon. He is the second ESPN Jr. 300 commit in the 2023 class, along with tight end Ethan Davis, and he is the first quarterback ranked in the top 300 for Heupel and offensive coordinator Alex Golesh.
The staff added four-star Tayven Jackson in the 2022 class, but saw Harrison Bailey and Brian Maurer transfer out. The staff has 2021 starter Hendon Hooker returning in 2022, as well as backup Joe Milton. Hooker threw for 2,945 yards, 31 touchdowns and 3 interceptions last season and solidified himself as the starter after transferring from Virginia Tech and starting the season as Milton’s backup.
Hooker’s success, and the past success Heupel has seen at previous stops, played a big factor in Iamaleava’s decision to pick Tennessee.
“This decision, because of what they’ve done with all the quarterbacks they had before them, just coming in seeing the numbers that Hooker had as opposed to the previous years,” Nicholaus Iamaleava said. “They have a breakdown of every quarterback that starts when he first came in and how they looked at season end. So the development part that they showcase, along with all their quarterbacks, that played a huge part because we know he’s going to be developed.”
Iamaleava will give the coaching staff an excellent option at quarterback after this season to replace Hooker. His commitment gives Tennessee the highest-ranked quarterback the program has landed since ESPN started its rankings in 2006.
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