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Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton opts out of Citrus Bowl, so Vols fans get to see Nico Iamaleava

Joe Milton

Is it true that the most popular player on a football team is the backup quarterback? Seems that way. Even when things are going well for the starter, there’s always this feeling of how things could be better.

The Tennessee Volunteers will find out if that’s true, as freshman Nico Iamaleava, one of the top quarterbacks from the 2023 recruiting class, will get his first start as Joe Milton announced on Instagram that he was opting out of the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl against Iowa.

Iamaleava is supposed to be the perfect quarterback to run Josh Heupel’s offense, a spread them out, go fast and throw deep plan that took college football by storm last season and got the Vols a Top 10 final ranking.

Milton took advantage of his chance, Iamaleava takes over

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Tennessee
Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Milton, who was supposed to be the starter in 2022, lost out to Hendon Hooker in the second game of the season. Hooker took over and electified Tennessee fans, a group that hadn’t seen a winner since the early 2000s.

This season, Milton threw for 2,813 yards and 20 touchdowns in what was a disappointing 8-4 finish.

Iamaleava who is 6-foot-6 and from Long Beach, California, has thrown for 163 yards and a touchdown in limited playing time. He was the No. 1 or No. 2 prospect in the 2023 class final rankings, depending on which service you used.

Tennessee running back Jabari Small also opted out, but did not announce what his plans would be moving forward.

Small rushed for 475 yards this season and 2,122 for his career. He scored 24 rushing touchdowns in his career, ranking 12th in Tennessee history.

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