FARRAGOT, TN – Nico Iamaleva raised a soccer ball on Sunday morning, leading his team to the Pylon 7-on-7 title in West Knoxville.
All was smiling after the win, celebrating with teammates, family members and coaches before heading to the Tennessee facility to finish off a jam-packed weekend of four nights and three days.
In a 72-hour period, he signed autographs and posed for photos with fans, threw and took tournament passes, ate ice cream and watched baseball, and checked out the Vols’ recent spring brawl — all while recruiting potential teammates.
So, yeah, this visit–and Iamaleva’s third visit to Knoxville, and her first since committing to Tennessee–was pretty crowded.
“It’s always great to come home,” Iyamaleva said on the field. “I’m just looking forward to coming back more and more until it’s official. I love Knoxville.”
However, after all that, there was one important person – one crucial interaction – leaving for Iamaleava in Scruffy City this weekend.
Oddly enough, the whole meeting took place due to the same instinct that turned Iamaleava into the sought-after midfielder: timing.
Go deeper with the camera
“You’ve got a booty!” Cam Newton said when he walked the Iamaleava, Vols’ 5-star commitment in California had rushed out the other side of the field at his uncle’s insistence.
Then again, Newton — who wore a red St. Louis Cardinals jacket over a navy sweater with Terminator sunglasses — carried plenty of his own flaunting to match with Iamaleava’s Polynesian-themed track pants and dark shades.
Newton was in Farragut training the 15U version of his 7v7 group, a squad wearing black jerseys with the C1N logo on the front and “BLESS THE BABIES” stacked on the back, and had just come back through the gate to train more ball when he saw Iamaleava waiting.
After the introductions, Newton told Iyamaleva that if Nico had not been out on the West Coast, he would have been happy to put his quarterback on his 18U team.
Then, in a moment intertwined between two very different eras of college football, the psychics embraced before having a brief conversation about mutual contacts.
Soon, Newton got to work.
Because Newton — the same guy who got a laptop stolen in Florida, a junior college stint in Texas, a career revival in Auburn (complete with a National Championship and Heisman Cup) and Superman comparisons in the NFL — has gone through it all.
And now it is on the other side. Yes, the free agent since his work at the Carolina Panthers may have ended in January, but he’s still free of the financial burden and legal issues that can compel many of the greats to “what if?” life season.
So on a Sunday, when a surprise meeting offered a precious opportunity to give some advice to one of the best recruiters in the middle in the transformational age of name, image, and likeness?
Well, Newton was ready to part with some knowledge.
“I will hold you accountable,” Newton said.
“Yes, sir,” replied Iyamaleva, whose eyes were kept shut on Newton throughout the discussion.
“Be because you can’t play this game, because you’re **just as sorry as f**k,” Newton said. “right?”
Go to follow
Translation: Let the reason your career come to an end is that you’re not as good as you used to be or you can’t play anymore, but don’t let it end because of anything else.
Iamaleva nodded to show that he understood.
Newton continued, “Don’t let it (the end of your career) be because you smoke weed, don’t let it happen because you slapped your girl, and don’t let it be because of a DUI.”
“This is unforgivable. These are inadvertent mistakes. So I will say it again: So be it, when all is said and done and you get to age Pops, when you reach my age and when you can’t play this game…”
Newton slowed down for a moment, then bounced as if to throw off a potential player: “There are more kids with stories,” man, I used to be a 5 star. “
He went on to add the importance of not making split-second decisions – like stealing or partying – and the number of potential players melting just because they got themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
For example, imitate Newton: “I could have gone anywhere.” “But man, me and my partner, I did nothing, I was just in the car, they robbed the store, and I blew my bum.”
Newton’s “stupid idea” was summed up once this example was done. “You know what I’m saying?”
Once again, Iyamalyeva nodded to confirm that he had obtained it.
Newton still talked, rolled and offered advice until he bumped into the aspects of college life that would affect Iamaleava the most: finances.
Iamaleava is built for the NIL era, with a friendly personality and a definite style that fits.
And Newton wanted to make sure he was prepared for the deals, the money, and the fame that – though already huge – would only increase once he actually scored.
“Start being a mental millionaire,” Newton said, adding that he took on that mindset at the age of 18 before actually earning that amount when he was drafted. “I can say that I am honest for the rest of my life because I have used the game of football. I did not let peer pressure distract me.”
And after college, if Iyamaleva used soccer as Newton did by going into the NFL?
“Everything is getting better,” Newton said. Money, cars, clothes.
And the contract money? “This is a generational wealth,” Newton explained.
In short, Newton encouraged Iamaleava to “behave properly yourself, my brother.”
Echoes of everything
When Iamaleava went up the stairs next, he followed a teammate who had held the trophy that had been awarded less than an hour earlier.
But when he went up the hill toward the parking lot on Sunday, Iamaleava took something much deeper than the 7-on-7 prize.
It also carries tips for life, provided by one of the best players ever to play SEC football, that will echo long after the just-starting Tennessee trip.