Spring game: Stunning crowd, young Vols shine

Marvin Westwestwords

A stunning Neyland Stadium crowd announced as 58,473 got to see already famous freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava and several other very promising newcomers in the Orange and White game Saturday.

The White won, 17-14. The winning edge was a fourth-quarter 38-yard field goal by sophomore J.T. Carver.

Josh Heupel had a general summation: Hooray.

Iamaleava finished 8-of-16 passing for 112 yards. Presumed starting quarterback Joe Milton, MVP of the Orange Bowl, was 9-of-13 for 79 yards and one touchdown. Top running backs and receivers didn’t play.

Junior quarterback Gaston Moore, who previously played for Josh Heupel at Central Florida, threw two TD passes. A long completion to Michael Bittner set up a shorter scoring throw to Dayton Sneed.

Gaston to senior tight end Hunter Salmon produced six more points. Moore has been around a lot of practices. He knows what he is doing.

Milton hit Kaleb Webb deep along a sideline and followed with a 4-yarder to Webb for a touchdown. Iamaleava made the throw of the day, to freshman tight end Ethan Davis. That set up a 24-yard TD run by freshman Cameron Seldon. Freshman running back DeSean Bishop, a former Karns standout, broke a 17-yard run.

Some of what Heupel said sounded like gratitude, some like recruiting:

“Beautiful day … over 58,000 showing up  …  unbelievable turnout from our fans, the absolute best in the country. I thank them for the energy that they’ve created … that was hugely important and they showed up in droves.”

Heupel said thanks to the Vols for Life.

“I think we had over 300 former players that were here this weekend. A great weekend to celebrate what they have done, what they meant to our program and do mean to our program … And also celebrate what is going on here currently and what we’re going to continue to build together, with them. Just a great weekend.”

Heupel said it was a lot of fun seeing a lot of guys compete. The coach held several out of action because of past injuries.

“Younger players got a chance to see what it looks like and feels like inside Neyland Stadium … ton of things we’re going to learn from the game, but really proud of the effort and energy they showed. … And really what they’ve shown throughout spring ball. These guys have been very intentional in their work since January. They’ve got great camaraderie and energy and connection. They care about each other, but they compete extremely hard.”

On the secondary:

“There’s been improvement in that area throughout spring ball. And truly in the offseason, too. Their accountability and what they’re doing, their maturity off the field. But it showed up in what they’re doing on the field, too. Fundamentals, technique, scheme, playing with discipline and playing with correct eyes and leverage. We’re 14 days in. We’ve got a long ways to go, but I like the competition.”

The coach said the Vols have continued to develop and improve.

“I anticipate great competition as we get into training camp.”

Heupel spoke well of the quarterbacks, especially game management and decisions.

“There are some things accuracy wise where we have to continue to get better. There are some things in situational football that you can’t do, that they’ll learn from… the group has been really good with the way they compete and help each other…I love what they’ve done this spring, but we’ve got to continue to grow.

That’s the reality of where you’re at when you end spring ball. You’ve got a long ways to go before you’re ready to play a game. We have time. We have to be urgent in the way that we prepare. That starts when we get rolling next week.

How about DeSean?

“DeSean Bishop, for a freshman who should be going to his prom next week or soon, has been really good, man. He has got great vision and got great pace. He has handled spring ball as a newcomer extremely well.”

Milton improvement?

“Some of that starts with off the field and being really sure in who he is and what he is about. Defining and growing in his work habits … that has allowed him to be more consistent …  if you are talking about just the football player, it starts with an understanding of what we are doing, understanding defenses and being consistent with his reads.

“Pair that with growth fundamentally, getting his feet in the ground and being in a positive position to be able to deliver the football from the ground up … pair those things and he is able to grow. You saw some of that in the way that he played at the end of last year. He has had a really good spring.”

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected]

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