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Young Vols shine in Tennessee’s opening win over Virginia

Young Vols shine in Tennessee's opening win over Virginia

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In Tennessee’s (1-0) 49-13 win over Virginia (0-1) on Saturday, the bench was cleared and young players saw either their first taste of college action or continued their career in orange.

While some had to wait for the score to become lopsided and others saw action early in the match, a collection of first and second-year players made an impact.

Here is who stood out.


RB – So. Dylan Sampson

Possibly the biggest standout on offense was sophomore Dylan Sampson. The second-year running back not only racked up 52 yards on 13 carries and nine yards on one reception, but he also found the end zone four times.

“That’s a good way to start if you’re a running back,” said Josh Heupel.

This production left him as the player responsible for the majority of the Vols’ points. While sharing the most carries on the team, he has firmly cemented himself as an option for Tennessee out of the backfield.

LEO – So. James Pearce Jr. 

While Sampson stood out on offense, it was sophomore James Pearce Jr. who headlined the defense. He finished with two sacks and two quarterback hurries.

This production came early in the game, as well, with the score still narrow.

“James (Pearce) played really well today early in the football game,” said Heupel.

MORE FROM VOLREPORT: Vols lean on run game, defense in win over Virginia

This was a great sign as Pearce came in to relieve Roman Harrison and shared reps with Joshua Josephs. The sophomore also saw time at other positions on the line alongside Harrison that helped him stay on the field and make a big impact.

DT – Fr. Daevin Hobbs

Another young defender who did a solid job was Daevin Hobbs. In his college debut, Hobbs recorded three tackles after entering late in the game.

“Daevin Hobbs did an unbelievable job in the interior,” said Heupel. “He’s a young guy whose best football is way out in front of him. But he just continues to get better. You can see his improvement really almost every day on the practice field. I thought he competed really well.”

While Hobbs likely won’t see the field for extended periods of time this season, this was a great start to his career. His future is clearly bright and he showed why.

QB – Fr. Nico Iamaleava

The most awaited debut this season has been freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava. The former five-star made his highly anticipated appearance in the fourth quarter on Saturday.

By the end of the match, Iamaleava recorded 11 yards in the air on 2-for-3 passing and an eight-yard rush.

MORE FROM VOLREPORT: Key takeaways: Tennessee football’s defense silences Virginia in opener

“Same things that we’ve seen,” said Heupel. “Really calm, cool. Good demeanor, able to communicate, handle all the pre-snap stuff the right way. Get his eyes in the right place. I thought he showed some athleticism.

“I love the feel in the pocket, being able to step up and get out of it and go make a play with his feet. He’s athletic enough to be using the run game and escape the pocket. And I thought some of the run-pass stuff, he did a good job. Made an athletic throw, didn’t complete it, but throwing across his body on a little slant route that ended up not being completed. But all in all, really solid performance from him.”

Iamaleava will likely see the field again against Austin Peay next week with a chance to throw for his first career touchdown. It was a great start against Virginia, though, as he showed poise and athleticism in the pocket.

Others: MLB – So. Elijah Herring, WLB – Fr. Arion Carter, WR – So. Squirrel White

Other younger players to standout in the game were Elijah Herring, Arion Carter and Squirrel White.

On defense, Herring led the team in tackles with five. He also pitched in half a tackle for loss. Carter picked up four tackles in his debut.

On offense, White continued where he left off a year ago. He caught six passes while totaling 45 yards. He didn’t break out any big plays but averaged a solid 7.5 yards per catch.

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Ryan Sylvia,