Jaylin Noel said Iowa State’s offense has “a lot of speed” — and he’s the hardest to catch

Dec 29, 2023; Memphis, TN, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Jaylin Noel (13) and wide receiver Jayden Higgins (9) react after a touchdown during the first half against the Memphis Tigers at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

 AMES — They can split out wide, or tuck themselves into the slot. They’re potent playmakers deep down the field and on quick-hit passes just past the line of scrimmage. In short, Iowa State’s senior wide receiver duo of Jaylin Noel and Jayden Higgins has proven to be both versatile and explosive — and their leadership styles mesh nicely, as well.

 “I feel like we both do a good job of mentioning things that need to be said,” said Noel, who last season became the first FBS player since 2014 to haul in four 50-plus yard receptions, two 50-yard kick returns and two 30-yard punt returns in a single season. “I feel like we do a good job of just being examples for the younger guys and I feel like Jayden has helped me improve my leadership a lot, and I would say the same, vice versa.”

 Noel — who stands 5-10 and weighs 200 pounds — and Higgins, a 6-4, 210-pounder, look a lot different on the field but produce similar gaudy results. Higgins led the Cyclones in receiving yards last season with 983. Noel led the team in receptions with 66. They combined for 13 touchdown catches last season — Noel with a team-best seven, Higgins with six — and both sprinted into the end zone on receptions spanning 75 yards or more. So they’re both steady and incendiary.

 “They are two guys that I’m very fortunate to have in the room together because everything they do from individual drills  to the way they carry themselves off the field — those two guys have a process and they’ve mastered the process, which is why they are who they are,” ISU pass game coordinator and receivers coach Noah Pauley said. “They push guys, the younger guys in the room, which is exciting of those guys, as well, (because) they have two guys like that to look up to.”

 And Noel and Higgins aren’t alone. Senior wideout Daniel Jackson is back and healthy and sophomore tight end Ben Brahmer is poised for a breakout season, as well. Add in athletic 6-4 Army transfer Isaiah Alston and promising redshirt freshman Beni Ngoyi and it’s clear that sophomore quarterback Rocco Becht will have an array of options to choose from downfield — and that’s not even counting tailbacks such as Abu Sama, Carson Hansen and speedy Eastern Michigan transfer Jaylon Jackson, who are all capable pass catchers.

 “I definitely think we have guys all over the field that can make plays,” said Noel, who tied for third nationally last season with three catches spanning 60-plus yards. “I feel like what sticks out with our offense is the speed of our offense. We’ve got a lot of speed on the perimeter, in the backfield; obviously you’ve seen what Abu can do in the open and I feel like you’ll see that more with Carson Hansen — he’s fast, and Jaylon Jackson’s really fast, a speedster. And then outside, even seeing (Higgins), he’s been able to improve his speed tremendously.”

 Noel’s swiftness and agility has been on full display since his freshman season. He’s ISU’s third-fastest player to 100 career receptions and will make his 23rd career start in the Aug. 31 season opener against North Dakota at Jack Trice Stadium.

 “He’s one of the most competitive guys  that I’ve ever been around,” Pauley said. “He’s the elephant in that room. The guys know that. And I think Jaylin knows in this last year he’s gotta put everything together and he’s excited about that and he’s taking that challenge head on.”

 It’s a catch him if you can situation for Noel, who’s naturally convinced he remains the fastest player on the team.

 “There’s obviously guys out there,” he said with a smile. “Jaylon Jackson’s up there, yeah, Abu, all those guys, they’re close, but I still think I have the edge.”