The Tennessee Vols‘ most recent “glory days” lasted from the early 90s until the 2005 season (which resulted in a 5-7 season despite sky-high preseason expectations).

Tennessee’s best stretch during that timeframe was from 1995 to 1998. The Vols only lost five games over those four seasons.

The catalyst for Tennessee’s success in the mid-90s was the arrival of Peyton Manning, a highly touted recruit from New Orleans that picked the Vols thanks in large part to his strong relationship with David Cutcliffe, UT’s offensive coordinator at the time.

Manning’s commitment to Tennessee signaled to then Vols head coach Phillip Fulmer that the program was on the verge of being able to compete with anyone.

“It was just huge for our program,” said Fulmer this week to The Athletic. “This is going to change the face of Tennessee football. We’re going to be out there competing with anybody. We did that. Getting a guy like Peyton put the exclamation point behind it or underlined it, whatever you want to say.”

Manning wasn’t a member of the Vols’ 1998 National Championship winning team, but he helped Tennessee’s program rise to national prominence.

Vols
Peyton Manning greets fans during the Tennessee Volunteers vs. Georgia Bulldogs game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee on Saturday, September 30, 2017.

Earlier this offseason, Tennessee secured a commitment from five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava, the No. 6 overall player in the 2023 recruiting class.

Iamaleava’s commitment to the Vols feels a lot like when Peyton committed to the Vols nearly 30 years ago.

A lot of things have changed in college football over the last several decades, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the impact that an elite quarterback can have on a program.

Iamaleava, who will be the Volunteers’ first five-star quarterback signee since 2002, has the potential to have a Manning-like impact on Tennessee’s football program.

Iamaleava’s impact will go beyond his performance on the football field. Landing a player like Iamaleava has a major impact on recruiting, too. Which in turn will bring even more talent to Rocky Top — just like when Manning signed with the Vols.

Nothing can make a program take off like an elite quarterback. It worked for the Vols in the 90s, there’s no reason it shouldn’t work again in the 2020s.

I don’t know exactly what the next version of Tennessee’s “glory days” will look like, but Iamaleava’s arrival in Knoxville will be the Vols’ best chance in over 15 years to get back to being relevant on the national stage.

Featured image via Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports