Staff writer Tyler Hendrickson contributed to this story
Long Beach Poly quarterback Nico Iamaleava announced his college decision Monday morning, picking Tennessee as his destination following the 2022 season with the Jackrabbits.
Iamaleava announced his final five last week and had narrowed the field from virtually every college in America to Tennessee, Oregon, Alabama, Georgia, and Miami.
The announcement was made on Iamaleava’s Instagram, where it quickly picked up tens of thousands of views.
Iamaleava said that while he had originally planned on waiting a little longer to announce his college decision, he was ready to commit to the Volunteers and was looking forward to putting the recruitment process behind him.
“It feels great today, now I can look forward to enjoying my senior year a little more and not worrying too much about the recruitment stuff,” he said. “And I get to start working on recruiting the other top guys to Tennessee in our class.”
Iamaleava and his family recently took an official visit to Knoxville, including younger brother Madden (also a QB offered by Tennessee), father Nic, and mother Leina. That visit was key to influencing his decision, pulling him away from Miami and Oregon.
“That visit really solidified it,” he said. “The first time I went I took my dad and brother but I didn’t get to take my mom. This time having her and my little sister there, they loved it–that really helped the decision. There was a great family vibe with that Southern hospitality they have. They treated us really well, I trust the coaches and I love the fans.”
Iamaleava and his family were serenaded with “We want Nico!” chants at a sold-out Tennessee basketball game. As great as the love from the fans was, Iamaleava said his mother feeling comfortable with the location was even more important.
“My mom got that home vibe when she first got there,” he said. “The coaches had their wives come out and spend time with her–we felt at home and my mom feels comfortable having me out there. That was really important.”
There’s not a long history of Jackrabbits becoming Tennessee Vols, but there is one significant player: Randall Morris, a Poly running back who gained more than 1,000 yards in Knoxville from 1980-83, and who’s a member of the Poly Football Hall of Fame after spending five years in the NFL.
The only other Jackrabbits who signed with Tennessee in recent memory was Cynthia Buggs, a volleyball All-American who signed with the Volunteers in 2003. Buggs was an SEC Defensive Player of the Week and ended up transferring home to Long Beach State.
There are some other regional ties from local athletes around the city. Currently, St. Anthony alum and Carson native Zaida Puni plays softball at Tennessee; Long Beach native and Los Al product Kaitlin Parsons is also currently on the school’s softball team.
Going back through the years, Lakewood catcher Tyler Schultz was a featured baseball player at Tennessee, and Lakewood alum Kelli Fitzgerald was on the inaugural Tennessee softball team in 1996. Millikan alum Sonny Cortez was a standout baseball player at Tennessee from 1996-98.