Iowa State Cyclones’ wide receiver Jaylin Noel (13) celebrates with fans after winning 34-27 over Oklahoma State Cowboys in an NCAA college football game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — The ink runs deep, encircling Jaylin Noel’s muscular right arm and powerful left leg. The Iowa State wide receiver’s body art reminds him of what matters most, serving as a loving tribute to his family, especially his late brother, L.J., who died tragically in 2019.
“He was 26 when he passed away,” Noel said. “But that’s really a big why for me, really, in my life. Just to know that he’s looking over me and knowing that I push every day because I get to be here and get to do the things I love.”
Noel, a 5-10, 200-pound junior, clearly loves playing football — and entering this Saturday’s 7 p.m. Big 12 clash (FS2) between the Cyclones (2-3, 1-1) and TCU (3-2, 1-1) at Jack Trice Stadium, he’s fully established himself as the Cyclones most consistent big-play threat.
He even clocked in with the fifth-fastest receiving touchdown last week in the loss to Oklahoma, sprinting 51 yards for a score at a top speed of 20.9 miles per hour according to a social media post from Reel Analytics. “That was pretty cool,” said Noel, who’s scored three touchdowns of 50 or more yards in his career. “My first thought was I knew I wasn’t going full speed on that because I was in the air and I had to land and get back going, but it is pretty cool that (because) of the work I put in, knowing I have that ability to go make those type of plays, it’s pretty cool.”
Noel’s statistics don’t generally pop like that, though, and that’s largely because he’s been such a reliable target in the short passing game — albeit with a few high-profile drops — since he strode onto campus as a freshman. He caught 38 passes from record-setting quarterback Brock Purdy in 2021, then gathered in 60 from former ISU quarterback Hunter Dekkers last season. He’s on pace to match or exceed that high number this season while connecting with first-year starter Rocco Becht and has become an elite route runner with an ability to modify on the fly.
“I think his big-picture understanding — we do put a lot on his plate,” first-year offensive coordinator Nate Scheelhaase said. “Most of the routes that he’s created explosive plays on this year have been routes where he’s had to make decisions. Putting that on a guy’s plate, it forces him to be not only fast, not only a good route runner, but a great decision maker. I think where you see the growth happening is him being able to make full-speed decisions and when he’s able to do that, he can put a lot of pressure on people fast.”
That’s the plan — especially on Saturday against the Horned Frogs, who boast the Big 12’s second-most prolific passing offense (293.8 yards per game) as well as its second-worst passing defense (262.4 yards per game).
“We know if we’re getting man we’ve got to go win a certain way, or if we’re getting zone we’ve got to go win a certain way,” Noel said. “So just the guys preparing and being here throughout the week and watching the film over and over again really helps us know what we’re gonna get, and when that time comes, we’ll get open.”
Noel’s artfully tattooed body makes him an open book in terms of self-expression for anyone who cares to look. His first tattoo honors the memory of his beloved late brother. Others feature the names of additional loved ones or speak to where he comes from: Kansas City. The most prominent one, which reads, “Always,” adorns his neck — and is meaningfully shared with his mother, sister and brother. “Just symbolizing the love and everything that’s gonna continuously go on,” Noel said.