An impressive showing by Tennessee this Saturday in its football opener against Virginia inside Nashville's Nissan Stadium would likely result in an appearance from five-star freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava.
The highest-rated defensive freshman for the No. 12 Volunteers — lineman Daevin Hobbs of Concord, North Carolina — could see action regardless of the score.
"We are excited about Hobbs. We really are," Tennessee third-year defensive coordinator Tim Banks said this past week in a news conference. "You talk about guys with versatility. He's a guy who can play inside and can play outside for us. Yes, he is a freshman, but he is extremely talented, and he is light on his feet for a big guy.
"Is there a learning curve for a freshman? No doubt about it, and it was no different with (edge rushers) Joshua (Josephs) and James (Pearce Jr.) last year."
The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Hobbs was the nation's No. 56 overall prospect and the No. 7 defensive lineman in the 247Sports.com composite rankings for the 2023 signing cycle. He was a two-way star at Jay M. Robinson High School, tallying 10 tackles for loss last season while compiling 13 catches for 283 yards and five touchdowns as a tight end.
Dobbs was also a basketball standout, averaging 14.7 points per game for North Carolina's 2021 Class 2A state champions, and his plan was to enroll in January and earn defensive line coach Rodney Garner's trust as soon as possible. Having to rehab a shoulder injury altered that path.
"It was tough for me," Hobbs said. "I graduated high school early so I could go through spring ball, and then I come over here and find out I couldn't do it. I just used the time to study my playbook and watch everything.
"I just took in everything."
Taking in everything meant knowing what to do at multiple spots. Hobbs said earlier this month that he has primarily worked at end but has played some tackle as well.
"We will obviously work with him and work through some of the growing pains," Banks said, "but we feel like he has an extremely high ceiling, and we are super excited to watch him perform this season."
Said Hobbs: "I'm trying to understand everything and keep competing every day. They like to play a lot of guys, so I'm getting ready."
Contact David Paschall at [email protected].