Tennessee QB Joe Milton ready to lead high-powered offense

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel
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Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton stands out in so many ways.

At 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds, Milton is flexible enough to do a backflip from a standing position and has a right arm so powerful he can stand on the goal line and throw an orange into the wall at the other end of a football field.

Nobody has ever questioned Milton’s athleticism.

Now 23 and the oldest quarterback in the room at Tennessee, the sixth-year player gets his opportunity. Milton will get the chance to showcase how much he’s grown and how at ease he is with shorter passes so he can keep coach Josh Heupel‘s super-charged offense on the field.

Heupel believes Milton is ready to play at an elite level in 2023, replacing former roommate Hendon Hooker, the man who took Milton’s job in 2021 after his own lower leg injury.

“I’ve been really proud of the way that Joe has worked here,” Heupel said. “He’s hyper-competitive and intentional in trying to become the best that he can be at his craft and at the same time, push and pull his teammates to compete at a championship level every day.”

Milton showed what he could do after Hooker tore his left ACL in a loss at South Carolina in November. He helped the Vols finish the season by routing Clemson in the Orange Bowl and ending up ranked sixth nationally after an 11-2 record – Tennessee’s best since 2001.

In his two seasons after transferring as a graduate from Michigan, Milton is 85 of 144 for 1,346 yards, 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s played in 31 games over the past five years with only nine starts.

Yet Milton insists he’s ready to be Tennessee’s starter as the Volunteers wrap up spring practice Saturday with the annual Orange & White game.

“There’s a lot more things that I see now that I didn’t see when I first got here,” Milton said. “So I’m obligated to move faster. You know, I see things different. I can also talk to the receivers and let them know what I see now. So I get to play more smooth, more calm and, you know, just be me.”

Tennessee needs that from Milton to build on the 18-8 record of Heupel’s first two seasons. With Hooker preparing for the upcoming NFL draft, freshman Nico Iamaleava is the likely backup when the season starts Sept. 2 in Nashville, Tennessee, against Virginia.

Iamaleava was the No. 2 quarterback nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings for the 2023 class. After that, the depth chart includes Gaston Moore, who followed Heupel from Central Florida, and preferred walk-on Navy Shuler, son of former Vols great Heath Shuler.

Milton is using the similar friendly and helpful competition he enjoyed with Hooker to help Iamaleava learn as quickly as possible. The 6-6 freshman took part in the Vols’ pre-bowl practices and started classes in January so he could do the spring practice.

Milton’s biggest advice? Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

“Nico comes to me every night, right after meetings he asks me questions about the script,” Milton said. “I’m willing to help anyway I can. That’s just me personally. For any freshman in the country, it doesn’t have to be just for Tennessee, go make a mistake. You never know what’s going to happen.”

How the Volunteers fare will depend on Milton fulfilling the promise that he had coming out of Pahokee, Florida – and the biggest key will be harnessing that mighty right arm to throw out routes and screen passes. Despite his limited play last season, Milton still tied for 14th nationally by completing six passes of 50 yards or longer.

New offensive coordinator Joey Halzle said Milton knows he’s competing against himself and is motivated to make the most of his final year of eligibility. Halzle also believes Milton has has room for growth after essentially having only four starts in the nation’s fastest-operating and top-producing offense.

They work regularly on underneath and mid-range throws.

“He’s got a bazooka,” Halzle said. “He can throw it through a wall if he wants to. So, let’s just touch all of these up when we’re in routes-on-air. What I always say, we work on that during our individual and routes-on-air, but when it’s time to take the field, you have to see it and react.”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.