Who is Nico Iamaleava? Meet Tennessee 5-star recruit starting at QB for Vols in Citrus Bowl

No. 25-ranked Tennessee, with Joe Milton III at quarterback, had high expectations ahead of the 2023 college football season. Some anticipated that could include a run at the College Football Playoff. 

However, both Milton and the Vols both came up short with a four loss campaign leading to a spot in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl.  Despite being ranked by most experts as the 10th- to 12th-best QB prospect in the upcoming NFL Draft, Milton elected to opt out to prepare for the next level.

Enter former 5-star recruit Nico Iamaleava, who will make his first start against the nation’s No. 3 scoring defense in 20th ranked Iowa.

MORE: Iowa vs. Tennessee odds, props, predictions for Citrus Bowl

Here’s a look into what to know about Iamaleava as he looks to make a strong first impression in his first extended playing time against quality competition.

Nico Iamaleava age

Nicholaus Iamaleava was born on Sept. 2, 2004, in Long Beach, California. The 19-year-old attended both Warren High School in Downey, California and football powerhouse Long Beach Poly High School in Long Beach.

Despite his age compared to some other college quarterbacks around the country and those he’s in the room with, what he brings to the table and his immense level of success in high school speaks for itself.

Senior offensive lineman Cooper Mays had plenty of positive things to say about what Iamaleava has shown throughout bowl game preparation, taking the reins after Milton opted out. 

“He has been the guy all throughout bowl prep,” Mays said. “He has done well for himself. Like coach (Joey Halzle) said, he does not really handle himself like a young guy. We have had a few weeks here to gel and come up and give him a chance to get ready for the game. He has done a really good job, and he has done the best he can with it.”

How he performs in a full game against a top-flight defense will give excited Tennessee fans a good idea of what to expect in the next era of Vols football.

MORE: Kirby Smart calls for change with opt-outs after Georgia’s blowout of Florida State

Nico Iamaleava pronunciation

Reading the quarterback’s last name leaves some wondering how to pronounce it. 

According to his official bio page on Tennessee’s website, Iamaleava is pronounced: ee-ah-MAY-LAY-ah-va.

Iamaleava has Samoan ancestry and played in the 2023 Polynesian Bowl, an annual high school football all-star game in Hawaii. 

Nico Iamaleava NIL deal

Several reports indicate that Iamaleava has an NIL deal with Spyre Sports Group that is worth $8 million. That’s massive, even with some of what we’ve seen in this era of sports.

Stewart Mandel of The Athletic wrote about the deal in 2022, citing a contract that says “nothing in this Agreement constitutes any form of inducement for (the athlete) to enroll at any school and/or join any athletic team.” No institution is named in the contract, it only says he must be, “enrolled at an NCAA member institution and a member of the football team at such institution.”

Iamaleava has not discussed the reported deal publicly, telling reporters in the spring “next question” when asked about NIL, per the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Nico Iamaleava high school stats

Iamaleava has seen action in four games in 2023 for Tennessee, completing 16-of-26 passing attempts for 163 yards and one touchdown. He also has 44 rushing yards on five carries.

But before that he had a storied high school career. He threw for 1,986 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior and added six rushing TDs. He was named the MVP of the Polynesian Bowl and was also named Polynesian Football Player of the Year.

247Sports ranked him the No. 2 quarterback in the nation and the No. 2 overall prospect for the Class of 2023.  He chose UT over Alabama, Auburn and Arizona State.

Here’s a look at his high school stats, via MaxPreps:

Year Comp Att Yards TD INT
2021 73 121 1,004 17 1
2022 162 272 2,244 33 1
2023 119 199 1,986 25 5

An incredible overall athlete, Iamaleava was also a star volleyball player in high school.  Time will tell if he puts the college football world on notice Monday versus the Hawkeyes.

Nico Iamaleava highlights

Here’s a look at some of Iamaleava’s top plays from his high school career:

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