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.”

Tennessee extends athletic director Danny White’s contract

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman announced a contract extension for athletic director Danny White on Wednesday, a day after the Volunteers disclosed a big pay raise for football coach Josh Heupel.

Plowman said White agreed to an extension that starts at $2.2 million a year with an annual pay increase of 5%, up from his original $1.8 million salary. Plowman signed the updated contract on Dec. 1.

“Danny White’s strong and innovative leadership of our athletics department has created a championship culture and excellence across all sports in record time,” Plowman said of the athletic director hired in January 2021.

Since White took over, Tennessee has won six Southeastern Conference team championships in women’s soccer, women’s swimming & diving, men’s basketball and baseball. The Vols won their first SEC men’s basketball tournament since 1979 in March.

Tennessee football finished No. 6 in both the AP Top 25 and CFP rankings with an 11-2 record that was its best since 2001. Baseball and men’s tennis earned No. 1 rankings in 2022, with baseball earning the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Men’s basketball finished No. 5.

White said he’s fortunate to be in the right place at the right time with university leadership and fan support.

“We’re just getting started on Rocky Top,” White said. “I can’t wait to see what’s next!”

Tennessee set a single-season record by selling 17,297 new season tickets for football in 2022, with more than 7,500 new season tickets sold for the 2023 season since September. Fundraising also is coming off a record year for 2021-22 for total money, cash receipts and total donors.

White announced in December that Tennessee had commitments of $361 million toward a campaign of raising $500 million by summer 2026.

Tennessee gives Josh Heupel big pay raise to $9 million

Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee gave coach Josh Heupel a big raise that puts him among the highest-paid coaches in college football after he led the Volunteers to their best season in more than 20 years.

Heupel will make $9 million per year through the 2028 season under the contract extension announced by the school and signed Jan. 19. That’s an increase from the $5 million extension signed last July that pushed his deal through 2027.

Athletic director Danny White said Heupel’s results speak for themselves with an 18-8 record, including 11-2 last season, capped by a win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. White said Heupel and his staff have energized the program and fans with his aggressive style of football.

“We just needed an innovative leader like Josh Heupel to reignite the spark,” White said of program that dealt with what he called a brief period of dormancy. “It’s been fun to crash the party, but as Josh said after our Orange Bowl triumph, the best is yet to come.”

The Vols have beaten seven Top 25 teams since Heupel was hired in January 2021, which ranks third nationally among FBS head coaches in that span. Tennessee went 3-7 in 2020 before Heupel was hired to replace Jeremy Pruitt.

Tennessee finished Heupel’s second season ranked sixth by The Associated Press college football poll, the Vols’ highest finish since 2001.

The pay increase features a $225,000 base salary with $8.725 million in supplemental pay.

Heupel’s bonus if he wins a national championship was doubled from $500,000 to $1 million. He now is among at least 10 head football coaches at public schools making at least $9 million.