Brandon Aiyuk is a sophomore WR at Sierra College, one of the top JUCO school in California. He's averaging 16 yards/catch and has snagged 14 TDs on 10 games; he's racking up over 35 yards/kick return as well, and has housed two. His speed, quite plainly, transcends the level of talent he's currently facing. He's going to enter the FBS ranks.
Aiyuk ended up in the JUCO program due in part to some academic struggles at high school in Reno, Nevada -- but also in part because he just took time to develop. Even when coming out of Sierra, Aiyuk failed to crack the Top-100 in a 2018 JUCO class that included such players as fellow Senior Bowler Davion Taylor, Green Bay Packers' third-round selection Jace Sternberger, and star Virginia QB Bryce Perkins.
But Aiyuk's homerun ability did not stay secret for long, as teams scoured the junior college ranks for immediate contributors. Arizona State came through with the offer only a few days before signing day, but Aiyuk already had visits with Kansas, Colorado State, and Tennessee scheduled. However, from those schools, Aiyuk had not been given a guarantee that he could get a shot at wide receiver.
Aiyuk was wicked fast coming out of Sierra, but he wasn't huge (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) and he wasn't so far along in his development as a receiver to prohibit a position switch to the other side of the football: defensive back, which he had played successfully in high school. Aiyuk never liked the idea, though he was willing to entertain it if it meant a chance at the FBS level: "I like having the ball in my hands," he said to AZ Central. "I think that's when I am at my best. I really wasn't interested in playing defense."
Arizona State also liked him with the ball in his hands. At the time, Arizona State receiver coach Rob Likens had watched and liked Aiyuk during the 2017 season at Sierra, and there was word that they could sign him in the fall before National Signing Day even came around. But when HC Todd Graham was fired and replaced by Herm Edwards, recruiting efforts would put on hold, and Aiyuk had to begin investigating other avenues.
Then, when the Arizona State offer finally came through, Aiyuk had a soft guarantee: at Tempe, he'd be given the chance to play wide receiver. And accordingly, he accepted -- having not once visited the school or met QB Manny Wilkins. IF it was his shot to play receiver at the height of college football competition, he was going to take it.
And he was going to earn it, as well -- as ASU Rivals reported when Aiyuk finally visited campus after signing his National Letter of Intent:
“I was watching the wide receivers,” Aiyuk described, “and coach Herm was joking around telling me ‘don’t get too comfortable over there with the receivers’ because he wants me to play defensive back. I’m not sure where I’m going to play and I talked to a lot of people on the visit. I think when I get there I’ll play both positions and they’ll see how I respond.
Aiyuk responded well -- he broke the WR depth chart in Year 1, wresting reps the further and further he grew acclimated to the speed of Division 1 football. As N'Keal Harry graduated, Aiyuk stepped into the Number 1 role for the Sun Devil offense this year, offering tremendous run-after-catch ability on quick-breaking routes for freshman QB Jayden Daniels. On the season, Aiyuk is third in the Pac-12 in receiving yards and second in yards per reception; in tonight's game against Oregon, Aiyuk will almost undoubtedly break the 1,000 yard mark for this season, with 964 on the season already.
Not bad for a defensive back.
Before the season, Aiyuk set goals of record-setting production for an Arizona State WR -- he likely won't reach those numbers, though he'll land quite high in the record books in both receiving and all-purpose production for a single-season player. That is more than enough for the latest of bloomers; the player peaking at just the right moment to burst onto the NFL scene; the player with more faith in one program than most programs had in the one player.