Five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava’s impact on Tennessee football’s recruiting has been good, but not great.
It’s not quite the influence of Arch Manning, whose commitment to Texas was followed by a spate of five-star and four-star recruits for the Longhorns.
And Tennessee is struggling to land some key targets on offense where players could play straight with Iamaleava. On Monday, five-star offensive tackle Francis Mauigoa picked Miami over Tennessee as the latest highly acclaimed recruit to pass the Vols.
But the Tennessee 2023 class is No. 10 in the 247Sports Composite rankings with five months to an early contract signing, due in part to Iamaleava’s high rating and his influence on other recruits. The Vols have not finished in the top 10 since the 2015 class under Butch Jones.
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It seems unfair to pin the responsibility for adding top recruits to a quarterback.
Recruits choose a school for all sorts of reasons: geography, tradition, playstyle, team colors, clothing brand, ability to play right away, family ties, academic field of study, and more.
Money received from Names, Pictures, and Likeness (NIL) deals has become a top priority for some recruits, further clouding the predictability of commitments. Also, recruiting players is still the job of coaches, not that of a high school quarterback signed to a college.
Even so, the best players usually follow an elite quarterback to a school. So the expectation of Iamaleava’s commitment to strengthening recruitment in Tennessee is reasonable. That’s how it’s gone so far.
Arch Manning had a bigger impact
Manning, the nephew of Peyton and Eli Manning and grandson of Archie Manning, is the No. 1 in the Class of 2023. Predictably, his decision kick-started recruitment for Texas, which has risen to No. 3 in the team rankings.
Since Manning was signed on June 23, the Longhorns have landed 10 recruits, including two five-star prospects and four four-star prospects. Most notably, five-star wide receiver Johntay Cook, four-star wide receiver Ryan Nisblett, and four-star offensive lineman Jaydon Chatman quickly joined Manning in the future offense for Texas.
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Iamaleava’s impact on Tennessee wasn’t so clear.
Since he was signed March 21, the Vols have landed four-star edge rusher Caleb Herring, four-star safetyman Sylvester Smith and four-star athlete Trevor Duncan, who is expected to play on the defensive line.
Tennessee’s top six players to sign since Iamaleava are on defense. And the Vols’ next best offensive recruit in the class is tight end Ethan Davis, who signed before Iamaleava.
Iamaleava more comparable to USC engagement
A more interesting comparison is the signing of Iamaleava and Southern Cal Malachi Nelson. They play at high schools near Los Angeles that are 10 miles apart.
And they’re the only quarterbacks, aside from Manning, in the top 10 of the 247Sports Composite Player Rankings. Nelson is #2 and Iamaleava is #4.
On November 30, Nelson switched stints from Oklahoma to USC, following coach Lincoln Riley to the Trojans. Zachariah Branch, a Las Vegas native and the No. 1 wide receiver in the class, and four-star athlete/wide receiver Makai Lemon, Nelson’s high school teammate, signed to USC shortly thereafter.
Nelson had an immediate impact on USC recruitment. But the Trojans’ next eight signings came at least five months later, so Nelson’s influence on those signings is debatable. And USC is at No. 12, still behind Tennessee.
Unlike Nelson, Iamaleava has to convince West Coast players to follow him across the country to the SEC. It’s not a hard sell, but the geography adds a degree of difficulty to Tennessee’s unofficial Class of 2023 Pied Piper.
Who Vols could still end up in class 2023
Tennessee is touting talent on defense in the 2023 class, but the Vols feel they are adding elite players on offense. Iamaleava’s dedication helped bring the Vols into play for prime prospects, but they ultimately chose other schools.
Mauigoa chose Miami. Five-star wide receiver Carnell Tate is committed to Ohio State. Four-star running back Jeremiah Cobb chose Auburn. Four-star offensive lineman Brycen Sanders signed Ole Miss. And four-star wide receiver Kyler Kasper chose Oregon.
Granted, five-star athlete Jonathan Echols has signed for Tennessee in the 2024 class, and he could play tight end. But he doesn’t help Iamaleava’s class.
There are still opportunities ahead of us.
Four-star athlete Cameron Seldon, a likely wide receiver, will choose between Tennessee, Penn State and Maryland. Three-star wide receiver Nathan Leacock has Tennessee among his last seven schools.
Four-star offensive tackle Shamurad Umarov will choose between Tennessee, Michigan State, LSU and Georgia. Four-star offensive tackle Lucas Simmons has Tennessee, USC, Florida and Florida State as his last options.
Iamaleava appears to be firmly committed to Tennessee. He would be the highest-rated quarterback to sign with the Vols in the 2000s. Quarterbacks Casey Clausen (2000) and James Banks (2002) were five-star prospects with a slightly lower rating than Iamaleava.
But Iamaleava’s supporting cast is still incomplete as Tennessee enters the final recruitment phase of the summer.
Reach Adam Sparks at [email protected] and on Twitter @AdamSparks.