Nico time at the Citrus Bowl for the Tennessee Volunteers

A new era begins for Tennessee football in the Citrus Bowl.
Vanderbilt v Tennessee
Vanderbilt v Tennessee / Eakin Howard/GettyImages

It has been what seems like an eternity for Tennessee Volunteer fans to see freshman sensation quarterback Nico Iamaleava on the field in meaningful situations. Vol fans will not have to wait much longer as Iamaleava has been named the starting quarterback for the 2024 Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida.

Nico Iamaleava to start at QB for Tennessee in Citrus Bowl

After an 11-2 season in 2022, expectations were sky high going into 2023 with starting quarterback Joe Milton who was entering his sixth year of college football. After spending the first part of his career with the Michigan Wolverines, Milton headed south to Knoxville to join the Vols beginning in 2021 before losing his starting job to Hendon Hooker in 2021. That continued into 2022 where Milton remained the backup throughout the 11-2 campaign until the Orange Bowl against Clemson where the Vols hung 70 on the Tigers.

From there, Milton’s season many would say was anti-climactic with numbers and gameplay that did not meet expectations in Knoxville with the Vols coming off of an 11-2 season.

In 2023, games like Georgia and Florida saw Milton have subpar performances against key rivals, which left Vols fans clamoring for Iamaleava.

Head coach Josh Heupel continued to keep Iamaleava on the bench throughout the entire season learning behind Milton, but just announced that he will get his first start in the Citrus Bowl.

Iamaleava is a highly sought after quarterback from the 2023 recruiting class. According to On3‘s recruitment rankings, Iamaleava was the sixth overall prospect in the entire class.

While all of the rankings make Iamaleava the highest recruited quarterback since Peyton Manning in Knoxville, that does not necessarily mean it will translate on the field. Or does it?

To the naked eye, Iamaleava may seem like your average freshman that entered the game and had success in meaningless situations this year with games already decided. However, Vol fan Paul Leatherman points out that Iamaleava’s teammates looked a lot more highly energized when Iamaleava took the field against Vanderbilt with the game already in hand during the last game of the regular season. And if you watch, Leatherman is not wrong. The body language and energy of the team is noticeable the moment Iamaleava took the reigns over from Milton.

This is a positive sign for the Vols as they head into the 2024 season with Iamaleava presumed to be the starting quarterback.

And Vols fans will not have to wait until then as they will get their first glimpse of what is to come on January 2nd as Iamaleava will start his first game against the Big 10 runner-up Iowa Hawkeyes.

Iamaleava undoubtedly shows a confidence and great command of the offense, so watch for the Vols to maybe have their best game of the season against the Hawkeyes, leaving rocky top clamoring again like they were at the end of 2022.