Ollie Lane has been around the block a time or two. The Tennessee veteran offensive lineman is entering year six with the program — his third with the current staff. Lane is battling for a starting job up front in his final season, but a certain Tennessee freshman has caught his eye. And yes, it’s the one you’re probably thinking of.
Nico Iamaleava is adjusting to college life and a completely new offensive approach, filled with spread concepts and lightning fast tempo. As a quarterback pretty clearly with the keys to the offense looking ahead to the future, the pressure is on this spring to settle in and start to master the system, just as Hendon Hooker did before him.
According to Lane, he’s off to a great start.
“Nico’s really surprised me,” Lane told reporters on Monday. “Obviously a big, highly-rated recruit and he’s come in and he’s kind of fit exactly what everybody was saying about him. I’m excited to see what the future at Tennessee has for Nico.
“I know sometimes, especially for me when I was a freshman, there’s some adjustment period, especially coming early, to getting into the college feeling. It feels like he’s just kind of like jumped right in, like he’s been here for a couple of years.”
Iamaleava does feel like he’s been a part of the program for a year now. He was a mainstay on campus after he committed, despite living across the country in California. He visited often for home games last fall, then practiced with the team during Orange Bowl prep. That bowl period allowed him to get his feet under him so he wasn’t starting from ground zero this spring.
“There’s still some tempo mechanics that I’m sure Coach (Joey) Halzle will want to fix with him, but all in all, he’s stepped in – whenever I’ve played offensive line for him – he’s vocal, he’s a very good leader and he’s able to push us and push our tempo when he wants to,” Lane continued. “So that’s kind of what I mean by ‘I’m surprised,’ because sometimes it takes a while for freshmen to get acclimated into the system, but he’s taken this opportunity and jumped right into it.”
A vocal leader was one of the positives we heard on Iamaleava before he arrived. Coaches raved about his ability to lead his unit, obviously a big positive trait for a quarterback. That’s continuing early on in Knoxville, and it’ll be interesting to see that command on display during the Orange and White Game.
Pair all of that with a big time arm, mobility and a 6-6 frame, and it’s easy to see how Iamaleava ended up as On3’s top overall player in the class of 2023.