Tennessee hosted elite 2023 quarterback Nicholaus Iamaleava Jr. out of Warren High School (Cali.) on Saturday night for their regular-season finale. The coveted prospect is a priority to teams across the country, but the Vols made serious headway in his recruitment with the unofficial visit. He discusses the trip here with Sports Illustrated.
"It was a great experience," Iamaleava Jr. said following the 45-21 Volunteer victory. "Just being here and the whole family environment, I was treated well, and the hospitality was great. I just enjoyed my time here."
There was not a specific that the touted signal-caller could point to about what stood out during his time in Knoxville, but that he just enjoyed it all.
"Everything," he said. "I think that my relationships with the coaches got even stronger. Me and Coach Heupel and Coach Halze had a great relationship before, but it was just great meeting Coach Heupel. I had never really met him. The game, overall, how it went, the offense is really dynamic. They just need a couple of more pieces, and I think I would fit right into that and leading that team to big wins."
The message from Josh Heupel was straightforward as the two spent time together during pre-game.
"Coach Heupel pitched to me that he thinks I am a game-changer," Iamaleava Jr. said. "I could come in and rebuild this back to the greatness that it was once at. Coach Heupel pitched to me that I have a chance to come in and compete with anyone and start as a freshman. Coach Halzle, we really didn't talk too much about football. He was asking me about my flight and if everything was treating me well. I really felt the love from Coach Halzle."
Coming into the visit, Iamaleava Jr. admitted he did not know much on what to expect about Tennessee.
"I have gotten like pictures and stuff from them and seen the great atmosphere they play in," he said. "It was just great actually being in it and seeing it live. I didn't know what to expect coming into Tennessee. I knew to expect a live crowd and to just enjoy the moments."
The family feeling on Knoxville made an impression on the 6'5", 205lbs gunslinger.
"The fans, the coaches, everything," Iamaleava Jr. said about what was most appealing about Tennessee. "Family is a big thing for me, and I felt a family environment here. I think that is going to play a big part in my recruitment."
Tennessee prioritized the California standout from the moment he stepped on campus, with Josh Heupel and Company even going out of their way during the Vol Walk and in pre-game to seek him out.
"Bama, they made it pretty similar, Georgia too, but this was different," he said. "No coach has walked up to me during the walks, and that was a little different. It was just great feeling the love from the coaches because they didn't have to do that. It was totally different experiencing all of the coaches walking up to me."
During the game, Iamaleavea Jr. was locked in on the quarterback position and enjoyed what he saw from Hendon Hooker.
"I thought Hooker played a great game," he said. "Ran the ball well when he needed to. I think he was very decisive in his reads, and I think coaches do a great job of making those reads easy for him. It was just great seeing it live and seeing how that offense works. I always see that offense put up a crazy amount of points on TV, so it was great to see it live. I know they wanted to get to 64 to break that record, but I think they got it with the bowl game in a couple of weeks."
He did admit that the tempo was even faster than he expected.
"Way faster," Iamaleava Jr. added about the tempo. "I was looking up because I was trying to record the plays because I normally record every play just to watch it on my phone after seeing it live. I recorded some, then I tried to save it and looked up, and they had already run another play. The tempo was great, and I think tempo is important when you get to college, especially when you play in the SEC."
So what is next for the elite prospect as the 2023 class is less than a month away from going on the clock.
"As of right now, I am not sure, me and my dad really plan everything last minute, to be honest," he said. This trip was last minute, but like I said, we have been wanting to get up here for the longest, but stuff has always come up. Other than that, I think we are going to take officials once my mom gets healthy enough to go on trips with us, we are going to take here on trips with us. I definitely want to involve her."
Tennessee certainly moved the needle for Iamaleava, as he did not expect what he got on Rocky Top.
"Man, it did a lot," Iamaleava Jr. said about what the trip did for Tennessee. "I was not expecting what I got out of this trip. Definitely plays a huge role in my recruiting and definitely one of my top choices now."
"Just coming down to the south coming from Cali., everyone thinks us, Cali. kids can't play, so it was just great feeling the love from everybody. The fans shouting my name out and telling me I would be a great fit here. I definitely felt the love from the fans, the coaches, and even the people that helped us out on the trip."
As far what he is looking for in a school, Iamaleavea knows exactly what he wants.
"I am really just focusing on who can prepare me for the league," he said. "In those three years, I am trying to get three and out. That is really the reality of it when I go picking one of these SEC schools."
joint interview with Volquest.com's Eric Cain and GoVols247's Ryan Callahan.