After all the talk, it’s here — Joe Milton’s chance. His final chance in the college football ranks, actually. Milton, the former four-star quarterback out of Florida, received his first chance back in 2020 with Michigan. After being benched, Milton joined Josh Heupel’s year one team at Tennessee, where he’d win the job again.
You know the story by now. Milton won the job and got hurt against Pittsburgh after an inconsistent start to 2021, and Hendon Hooker took over and never looked back.
Two years later, seemingly much more seasoned and mature, here we are again. With Hooker gone, the 6-5, 235 pound flamethrower hits the field on Saturday with everything in front of him. It’s his for the taking, and what happens next will be fascinating.
“I’m excited for him,” Heupel said on Monday. “He’s a guy that did it the right way when it didn’t go his way early on. He looked at himself and saw how he needed to continue to improve to get better, trust in his coaches and the program and believe in the guys around him inside of the locker room. He’s put himself in a position to play at a really high level because of the work ethic that he’s had inside of our program.”
Milton’s ownership of this team has been well documented. It started when Hooker went down last year, and the keys to the car were handed over in a tough spot. That 2022 team could have laid down to end the year. But instead, the Milton era began with a bang. The Volunteers steamrolled Vanderbilt, then thumped Clemson.
The encouraging thing for Tennessee was the obvious progress of Milton, who silenced a lot of doubters on that night in Miami.
“Since the back half of that first season, he’s become really mature in who he is, what he’s about and how he’s going to work and impact his teammates,” Heupel said. “The leadership role is not just coming from the Orange Bowl. He’s been that guy for a long time inside of our program. He’s someone that’s continued to grow in his understanding of defensive alignments which allows us to communicate and adjust quickly with him. I think it’s really important that he has complete command of what we are doing offensively.”
Milton gets a chance to open against Virginia, which won just three games a year ago. Another tune-up opportunity next week against Austin Peay takes him into his first true test, which will be a trip back home to Florida to face the Gators.
Finally, the talk and the preseason hype is over. It’s time to show us what you’ve got, Joe.