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Why Joe Milton is still with Tennessee football as backup quarterback

The Knoxville News-Sentinel logo The Knoxville News-Sentinel 8/2/2022 Mike Wilson, Knoxville News Sentinel
Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III answers questions during football media day in Knoxville, Tenn. on Sunday, July 31, 2022. © Saul Young/News Sentinel Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III answers questions during football media day in Knoxville, Tenn. on Sunday, July 31, 2022.

Joe Milton knows he could have left Tennessee football this offseason if he wanted to.

The senior quarterback had dropped to the backup quarterback spot behind Hendon Hooker, his classmate who is entrenched in the starting role. But he didn’t think about looking to transfer.

“For what?” Milton said Sunday. “No reason to. I am having fun. I am learning something new every day. I am enjoying life.”

Milton is back for the Vols for a second season alongside Hooker, the senior starter. He chose to stay in Knoxville opposed to transferring for the second straight season.

Milton started two games after transferring from Michigan prior to the 2021 season. He was 32-for-62 passing for 375 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. 

“I wouldn’t say I lost the starting job, “Milton said. “In life you face a lot of adversity. You want to kind of find your way through tough things in life.”

The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Milton is living a different life this preseason than he was a year ago. He entered this time last year in a four-person battle to be the starting quarterback. He ultimately won the spot and opened the season as the starter. Hooker was the backup.

Milton suffered an injury against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11, which he said was two torn ligaments in his ankle. Hooker entered, performed well and never surrendered the starting job. Hooker, who transferred from Virginia Tech in early 2021, was named to the preseason All-SEC second team.

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Vols coach Josh Heupel praised both senior quarterbacks for their leadership and camaraderie.

“Joe is a very competitive guy,” Hooker said. “Day in and day out, he works his tail off. Just being here at Tennessee, I feel like as a quarterback, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Having the leadership we have in front of us with coach Heupel and coach (Joey) Halzle, there is no other place to be as a quarterback honestly.”

That’s how Milton felt despite being the backup. He’s bought in on being at Tennessee and working with Hooker as well as a freshman Tayven Jackson, who would be among the competition for the starting spot next season. He voiced confidence in his understanding of the offense compared to last season. The game is moving slowly, he said, and his mindset is established.

He and Hooker are in tandem on and off the field, working to correct each other and develop. 

“We will just talk about small things or things we can fix,” Milton said. “Things we can address to the team. Things we can do better. Things that I see that he needs help with or things he sees that I need help with. Whatever it is, just piggy backing off each other.”

Milton played in five games as the backup a season ago, including entering for Hooker against Ole Miss in October following an injury. He’s aware the same possibility exists as a backup quarterback this season.

But that’s not why he’s still at Tennessee. He didn’t want to be anywhere else and is riding alongside Hooker.

“That is my boy,” Milton said. “I push him to be the best. We are going to keep fighting it out. It doesn’t matter. Whenever your name gets called, just be ready.”

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at michael.wilson@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. 

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Why Joe Milton is still with Tennessee football as backup quarterback

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