Young wide receivers have stood out in spring practice


Jacob Rice

Jaylin Noel reaches for the football in 31-14 win over West Virginia on Nov. 5.

Iowa State’s wide receiver room has been an area of focus this offseason, but the position is chock-full of young talent that may be ready to break through to the starting roster.

New starters were a commonality for Iowa State’s young 2022 roster after graduating its most decorated senior class in program history. The year was a changing of the tides for the Cyclones, where plenty of new players took the reins on both sides of the ball.

This season, Iowa State’s most key positions will feature returning starters, but aside from a few veterans, the wide receiver position has more than enough spots available. As Iowa State progresses through spring practice, some younger players have begun to separate themselves from the pack.

“It’s been one of the fun things about this process so far, being the new guy, I have really given everyone a blank slate when they come in,” wide receivers coach Noah Pauley said after Iowa State’s third spring practice. “I think overall it’s been a fun group. There’s a lot of young talent.”

Following the 2022 season, Iowa State graduated Xavier Hutchinson, a keystone pillar of the wide receiver room and a player who will more than likely be taken in the NFL Draft. Starters Jaylin Noel and Dimitri Stanley return from last season, but otherwise, the position is wide open.

The Cyclones have a supply of athletes in the wide receiver room, but some of the prospective starters may only be working with a couple months of experience at the moment.

Head coach Matt Campbell and the coaching staff signed a deep wide receiver class during the 2023 recruiting cycle, including standouts like Kai Black and Beni Ngoyi. 2022 four-star recruit Greg Gaines has also spent a year developing in the program.

Pauley said he’s expecting to rely on some of his younger players for the upcoming season.

“For guys that have been here for two months, they’ve done a great job of just getting out there and learning the system and doing as much as they can to be prepared when they step on the field every rep,” Pauley said.

It wasn’t just Pauley that sang the praises of Iowa State’s underclassmen. Noel has also been impressed with the newcomers in his receiver room so far during the spring practice period.

Noel tagged Ngoyi and Black, along with Eastern Kentucky transfer Jayden Higgins as potential contributors.

“Those three guys are very impressive,” Noel said. He noted that Ngoyi may be the “most athletic person on the team.” He also complimented Black’s physicality, as well as the pair’s ability to soak in information and adapt quickly.

Not too long ago, Noel was the standout underclassman, catching the eye of the coaching staff and older players in the locker room. Now Noel has begun to adapt to his new role as an Iowa State veteran.

“As a leader, I’ve learned from guys like [Hutchinson], [Anthony] Johnson and Brock Purdy,” Noel said. “I’m just continuing to do the right things so that the young guys know, when it’s their time to lead, that I left a good example of that.”

With youth comes inexperience and uncertainty. It’s one of the things that bit Iowa State last season when the Cyclones kept finding themselves in tight games. Still, the team has veterans like Noel to rely on, as Iowa State’s young talent continues to mature.

“To be the guy when you lose a guy like [Hutchinson] that had 107 catches, man it’s a lot to do,” Pauley said. “So just the way he’s preparing and being a guy that you can rely on.”