Long Beach Poly quarterback Nico Iamaleava could have given up volleyball a long time ago. The five-star signal-caller received his first football scholarship offer when he was a freshman, and committed to Tennessee last month. But there he was in the gym at Canyon High in Anaheim last week, putting on a show on the volleyball court in a four-set Jackrabbit loss in the first round of the CIF-SS playoffs.
The junior had 27 kills, six blocks, nine digs, and two aces for Poly.
“He’s a special player, if he wanted to stick with volleyball he’d obviously have a very bright future,” said Poly coach Sid Davidson.
In this modern era of specialization, it was almost strange to see Iamaleava there in the first place. Parents of kids as young as elementary school age are now frequently opting to stick their kids in one sport year-round to help them specialize.
Iamaleava said that’s never been the philosophy of his family.
“It’s just fun, volleyball is fun for me,” he said. “I had to come back out and play, some of these guys on my team have been my friends since sixth or seventh grade, we go way back. So it was good to play with the seniors before they left, it’s a lot of fun.”
Iamaleava’s volleyball career in high school has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. He played in only one match his freshman year at Poly before the season was shut down–he had 25 kills in that match on the road against Lakewood. He was hoping to play that year with his brother Matt, a senior at Poly who’s now on the team at Long Beach State. Instead the season ended before they got a chance to.
This year after transferring back to Poly, he had the same thought, and was looking forward to playing with his younger brother Madden, also a scholarship-offered football player who’s continuing to play volleyball. But there were delays getting their eligibility approved after transferring, meaning Nico only got two matches on the team with Poly this year, while Madden will have to wait for his sophomore season in 2023.
“We had a really good chance to win CIF my freshman year, and I really wanted to play with my brothers, but that’s just the way it went,” said Nico. “The timing worked in a weird way.”
There was a thought when he was younger that Iamaleava might continue to play both football and volleyball into college, but as he rocketed up the rankings lists that became less and less realistic. Even now as he’s playing volleyball in the Spring, football is still a year-round pursuit, and he knew that once he graduated high school (which he’s planning to do after the Fall semester at Poly) it would be time to hang up the sneakers.
“My dad has talked to me about it plenty of times and I know the deal, I know what’s out there for me,” he said. “I don’t need volleyball, it’s a ‘want’ for me–I love playing and I really wanted to play with these guys.”