The effect of five-star strategist Nico Iamaleava on Tennessee football recruitment was good, but not great.
It’s not quite the impact of Arch Manningwhose commitment to Texas was followed by a flurry of five- and four-star recruits for the Longhorns.
And Tennessee struggles to get some key targets on the offensive, where players can play directly with Iamaleava. On Monday, five star offensive tackle Francis Mauigoa chose Miami over Tennessee as the newest highly regarded recruit to pass the Vols.
But Tennessee’s 2023 class is No. 10 in 247Sport Composite rankings showing five months to early signing period, in part due to Iamaleava’s high rating and impact 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 of adding top recruits to a quarterback.
Recruits choose a school for a variety of reasons: geography, tradition, play style, team colors, clothing brand, ability to play immediately, family ties, field of study and much more.
Getting money from NIL (namely image and likeness) deals has become the top priority for some recruits, further clouding the predictability of pledges. Plus, it’s still the job of coaches to recruit players rather than a college-affiliated high school quarterback.
Nevertheless, the best players usually follow an elite quarterback to a school. So it is a credit to expect that Iamaleava is committed to strengthening recruitment in Tennessee. Here’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 player in the class of 2023. Unsurprisingly, his decision kicked off the recruitment for Texas, which has risen to No. 3 in the team rankings.
Since Manning deployed on June 23, the Longhorns have landed 10 recruits, including two five-star prospects and four four-star prospects. Notably, five-star wide receiver Johntay Cook, four-star wide receiver Ryan Nisblett and four-star offensive lineman Jaydon Chatman quickly joined Manning on the future strike for Texas.
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Iamaleava’s impact on Tennessee has not been so apparent.
Since his commitment on March 21, the Vols have landed four-star edge rusher Caleb Herring, four-star safety Sylvester Smith and four-star athlete Trevor Duncan, who is expected to play in the defensive line.
Tennessee’s top six players to commit since Iamaleava are on the defensive. And the Vols’ second-best offensive recruit in class is Ethan Davis, who moved ahead of Iamaleava.
Iamaleava more similar to USC obligation
A more interesting comparison is Iamaleava’s association with Malachi Nelson in southern Cal. They play in high schools separated by 10 miles near Los Angeles.
And they are the only quarterbacks besides Manning in the top 10 of the 247Sports Composite player rankings. Nelson is number 2 and Iamaleava is number 4.
On November 30, Nelson transferred from Oklahoma to USC, following coach Lincoln Riley’s lead to the Trojans. Las Vegas native Zachariah Branch, the No. 1 wide receiver in the class, and four-star athlete/wide receiver Makai Lemon, Nelson’s high school teammate, committed to USC shortly after.
Nelson had an immediate impact on USC recruiting. But the next eight pledges from the Trojans came at least five months later, so Nelson’s impact on those additions is debatable. And USC is at number 12, still behind Tennessee.
Unlike Nelson, Iamaleava has to convince the West Coast players to follow him across the country to the SEC. It’s not a hard sell, but geography adds a level of difficulty for Tennessee’s unofficial Pied Piper of the 2023 class.
Who could still land Vols in the class 2023
Tennessee is promoting defense talent in the 2023 class, but the Vols have smelled of adding elite players on offense. Iamaleava’s commitment helped keep the Vols in the game for high profile prospects, but they ended up choosing other schools.
Mauigoa chose Miami. Five star wide receiver Carnell Tate dedicated to the state of Ohio. Four-star running back Jeremiah Cobb chose Auburn. Four-star offensive lineman Brycen Sanders committed to Ole Miss. And four-star wide receiver Kyler Kasper chose Oregon.
Granted, five-star athlete Jonathan Echols committed to Tennessee in the 2024 class, and he could play tight. But he doesn’t help Iamaleava’s class.
There are still opportunities ahead.
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 seems strongly 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 recruiting phase of the summer.
Reach Adam Sparks at [email protected] and on Twitter @AdamSparks.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee Football: Top Recruits Don’t Follow Nico Iamaleava to Vols