It does not take even five minutes for Nico Iamaleava to stand out on the football field. He has become known on the 7-on-7 circuit, for his insistence for wearing colorful pajama bottoms to each event and for his precise performances.
As the story goes Team Toa – TOA which means valiant Polynesian warrior, a throwback to Imaleava’s Samoan heritage – was playing in a 7-on-7 tournament in Miami. This particular tournament allowed pass rushing, and the members of the South Florida Express chased Nico around the field. All that running left his sweatpants caked with mud. The next day, the team was running late leaving its hotel. Nicholaus Iamaleava Sr. – who is affectionately called Big Nick – was yelling for everyone to hurry, and when Big Nick said something, everyone complied. When Nico realized his pants were too muddy to wear again, he threw on the closest clean pants like apparel he could find and ran out the door. After he torched opponents that day wearing pajama pants bottoms, Nico started wearing them for every 7-on-7 event. His teammates followed suit. So did opponents. Thus starting a nationwide movement which could have endorsement opportunities down the line for Nico, a total windfall, all told, that should be significant.
Nico Iamaleava has really shown the most of his command and skill on the field not only in his junior year at Warren High School, where he threw for over 2,244 yards and 33 touchdowns against only 2 interceptions all while rushing for 158 yards and three TD at 4.9 yards per carry, but on the 7 -on- 7 circuit as well as Nico and Team Toa travels from field to field participating in tournament after tournament. But what exactly is 7 -on- 7 and how has it become such an important metric in assessing quarterback play? Initially started as an all-passing, non-contact extension of flag football, 7-on- 7 was first practiced at Baytown Lee High School in 1994. The aerial attack inspired a new pass first style of spread offense, first schemed by Andy Reid and dubbed Air Raid by Mike Leach. As popularity rose and results showed in schools, third-party organizations arrived. The rules are simple:
- Games are 21 minutes long and played with teams of seven players dressed in skintight apparel, well except for the pajama pants wearing Nico, with soft-shell headgear.
- Drives begin 40 yards from the end zone, first down markers are set at the 25 and 10-yard lines, and ball-carriers are downed by touch.
- While lineups lack linemen, plays begin with designated snappers tossing balls to quarterbacks who have only four seconds to throw to a receiver matched up in coverage.
In time, what began as just a drill became a burgeoning industry. With its beginnings as an offseason training tool, 7-on-7 has unfolded into nationwide tournaments hosted in packed fields and providing life-changing travel experiences for mostly underprivileged athletes.
However, as with most good things money has become a factor on 7 -on- 7 tour grounds. Athletes, mostly their immediate families or guardians, have to find payment for team membership, local companies pay for camp sponsorship, teams pay for event entry, clubs pay for brand-name gear. Coaches recruit, players join, fans attend, media cover, scouts follow and then it becomes a money play. A money play that has worked its way into the calendar of all high school football skill recruits’ schedules. Chances are that if a player is a wide receiver, defensive back, running back and especially a quarterback prospect, it makes sense to try to sign up on the best 7 -on- 7 team available. With the focus being to get noticed by scouts for colleges and having that lead to scholarship offers. More than enough incentive to keep players like Nico Iamaleava and talented teams like Team Toa participating every year and keep the gravy train rolling. There is no doubt that evaluators have gathered plenty of information about Nico’s ability from these showcase events. But what exactly have they seen from the young man from Downey, California that has placed the national spotlight on him on a seemingly basis?
It’s difficult to tell much about Nico’s pocket awareness or his ability to read defenses from a 7-on-7 tournament – or several, but it’s easy to hear the ball sizzle when it leaves his hand. He can power throws to the far sideline, and he can drop a deep ball into a receiver’s hands. On one play – in a recent tournament, Nico threw a perfect teardrop 40 yards over a cornerback as easy as a zephyr. This was not him showing off, however, as these showcases can end up being at times. This was Nico. Doing what he felt was necessary to maximize each snap. An innate sense of how to get the right play called and the best outcomes for said play each time. The question could be asked, how did Nico Iamaleava get like this and was it always fated to him to be this way on the football field?
Nico Iamaleava got his background in contact sports through rugby since it’s a big part of his family’s Samoan culture. When he made the move from that sport to gridiron football, Nico played a variety of positions from safety to receiver before eventually landing on being a quarterback. It wasn’t long before Nico showed extraordinary arm talent normally associated with the elite talents of the game. But to really make a mark, a quarterback has to possess the tools to have a chance at attaining the full package. Nico has these tools and more, firstly he stands at an impressive 6’6″ and 195 pounds, Nico looks wiry but has room to fill out if necessary. Once you take into account his mobility, physical toughness and intelligence then that is certainly a sound foundation that any offensive coordinator worth his salt, across the country, would want to work with. As for the way Nico reads the game, that is already one of the aspects of play that excites football fans and analysts alike. His pocket presence compete with the ability to make plays with body contortion, off-script showcasing ability and body control shows a player that is just scratching the surface on what could be an over twenty year career as a high profile starting quarterback for first a major university and then longer stint as the face of a franchise in the National Football League.