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Three-Point Stance: Nico Iamaleava, Tennessee, Clemson

Nico Iamaleava
Nico Iamaleava (Nick Lucero/

Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney talks about seeing five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava on Friday night, the incredible changes at Tennessee and how it could impact recruiting, and he looks at Clemson’s success on the field and in recruiting this season.

MORE GORNEY: Recruiting rumor mill


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I might have seen the best football player in the 2023 class Friday night: Nico Iamaleava.

The Downey (Calif.) Warren five-star quarterback is already ranked fourth in the country so we obviously think very highly of him, but that still might be too low - by three spots.

Iamaleava is all of 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, still skinny but he plays with such toughness, such competitiveness and such an assassin’s mindset. He also has an arm that you can only believe when you see it in person. The ball doesn’t pop off his hand – it slingshots.

There’s something about the way he plays with charisma and confidence and incredible physical ability that makes him so special.

Rankings are based off expected college performance and NFL Draft positioning. It’s impossible to believe Tennessee coach Josh Heupel and his staff won’t maximize Iamaleava’s abilities.

Downey Warren coach Kevin Pearson (who also coached Bryce Young for a time in high school) spent some time recently in Knoxville to study the offense and he’s thrilled with how it fits his star quarterback. It’s perfect for his abilities plus Heupel was a quarterback and knows a great one when he sees one.

Arch Manning is No. 1 right now and a phenomenal talent who has resources in his uncles and grandfather and so many others, plus his on-field ability is special as well.

Oregon QB commit Dante Moore and five-star cornerback Cormani McClain are Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, but Iamaleava deserves to not only be in the conversation for No. 1 but maybe even be the top dog.



Josh Heupel
Josh Heupel (USA Today Sports Images)

It’s not that long ago that recruits were allegedly getting McDonald’s bags filled with money, that an NCAA investigation led to an overhaul of the coaching staff, that Jeremy Pruitt was whisked away in shame, never to come back.

Tennessee football was going nowhere fast. Luckily, Pruitt had his hands on the program for only three seasons. The mess could be cleaned up.

That job was left to Josh Heupel and it could not be going any better. Saturday night was such an extraordinary scene in Knoxville, first with an electric atmosphere, a win over Alabama in stunning fashion, a phenomenal and brilliant game plan by Heupel and his staff and then the storming of the field to Dixieland Delight. It didn’t end there as the well-greased students then took down the goalposts, riding them out of the stadium and reportedly throwing them in the Tennessee River.

The last time fire raged at Tennessee was when people childishly blocked former coach Lane Kiffin’s path out of town when he took the USC job. Upon his return last season, they threw golf balls and a mustard bottle and other junk on the field.

Heupel has raised the level in Knoxville - on the field for sure and maybe even off it. Tennessee is a legitimate national contender as Gary Danielson compared this group (once Cedric Tillman comes back) to the Joe Burrow-led LSU team that won the national title.

Does it get that far for these Vols? Time will tell - and the path goes through Georgia in a few weeks which is a serious hurdle to consider.

And in all things is recruiting, and how could it have possibly gone better than Saturday night with elite players packed into the stadium to experience that scene? Peyton Manning in the locker room smoking cigars, the field jam-packed with the Vol faithful and recruits soaking it all in.

Heupel could not have dreamed of a better outcome.




DJ Uiagalelei
DJ Uiagalelei (USA Today Sports Images)

Clemson survived at Wake Forest weeks ago. Then it handled NC State. Then on Saturday night it dictated its terms to Florida State at Doak Campbell in a 34-28 win that didn’t feel as close.

Remember when everyone was saying Clemson fell off and might not return to national title status? Think again.

Five-star QB DJ Uiagalelei is back and better than ever, handing it to high four-star Will Shipley, throwing it to five- and four-stars in the receiving corps with Antonio Williams, Beaux Collins and Joseph Ngata leading the way and then the defensive line and linebackers are a who’s who list of elite five-star players.

Did we think somehow coach Dabo Swinney wouldn’t be getting the best out of these guys after one season where there were some fits? This really might be a revenge tour and in my estimation, Syracuse - the undefeated Orange - are going to feel it next week.

And recruiting is going along swimmingly as well. Clemson has the ninth-best recruiting class in the country and when considered by average star ranking, the Tigers would be fifth. Quarterback Christopher Vizzina leads the way and then four-stars Aveion Terrell, Peter Woods, Harris Sewell, Victory Burley and others only mean one thing: Clemson’s demise has been greatly exaggerated.