Former ASU receiver Brandon Aiyuk blazes trail to Super Bowl

Former Arizona State standout Brandon Aiyuk, now a rising star with the San Francisco 49ers, consistently demonstrates his worth in the NFL. (File photo by Sarah Farrell/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — Days after the San Francisco 49ers season was in the rearview mirror, former Arizona State receiver Brandon Aiyuk took to social media fresh off the biggest stage of his playing career to post cryptic posts about his future with the team.

With the confetti long gone inside Allegiant Stadium after the Kansas City Chiefs won a second straight Super Bowl, Aiyuk had an important message to send out after only posting three catches for 49 yards in defeat: “Don’t forget what got you there,” he tweeted.

His girlfriend and brother followed Aiyuk’s lead with vague social posts of their own. When asked about free agency and the “right move” later in the week, Aiyuk said, “Being a champion.”

A sense of mystery has defined Aiyuk’s journey to the NFL. He played high school football at McQueen in Reno, Nevada before graduating to prove he could live out his NFL dreams, first at at Sierra College, a junior college in Rocklin, California.

Flying under the radar is nothing new for the emerging NFL receiver, and elevating his game since his high school days helped earn him a shot Sunday.

Aiyuk posted standout numbers in his first two years with the Wolverines, including 29 receptions for 573 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman and 60 catches for 960 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore.

His former coach at Sierra, Ben Noonan, suggests he always played with a chip on his shoulder, and it grew even bigger after relieving the playmaker of his kickoff return duties one week.

“He didn’t speak to me for two days during practice,” Noonan said. “He said, ‘You took me off special teams … Coach, I could change the game on the first kickoff return of the game.'”

Aiyuk, in the first game after resuming his duties as a returner, ran back two punts for touchdowns and a kickoff for a score.

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“That was the week he was all pissed off at me that I took him off special teams; he made his point very clear … That was one of the greatest junior college performances I’ve ever seen,” Noonan said.

Aiyuk’s hard work, passion and dedication eventually landed him in Tempe at Arizona State University for his junior and senior years.

Just like his time at Sierra College, Aiyuk found great success at Arizona State in two seasons. In his first season with the Sun Devils, he recorded 33 receptions, 474 yards and three touchdowns. His stats leaped in his senior season, with 65 grabs, 1,192 yards and eight touchdowns.

Seemingly emerging out of nowhere, the talented athlete was no longer a secret. Aiyuk’s overall production and improvement led him to become a first-round pick with the 49ers at 25th overall in the 2022 NFL Draft.

He joined a roster with offensive talents like Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Kendrick Bourne and Christian McCaffrey throughout his first four seasons in the NFL, but that wouldn’t stop him from making a name for himself on some of the biggest stages and becoming a household name for the 49ers faithful.

“I think I’ve grown in different ways; I feel like each year I’ve kinda changed my game and done something a little bit different to get different results,” Aiyuk said, “but mainly just coming into work every single day.”

In the playoffs during the 49ers’ Super Bowl run, Aiyuk racked up nine receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown as one of the team’s most impactful weapons.

Entering his fifth-year option, all eyes will be on Aiyuk’s future, whether it continues in San Francisco or elsewhere as he prepares for yet another pivotal chapter in his career.

While a lot remains unknown now, one thing is for sure: Aiyuk’s hard work and determination make the sky the limit, and there’s a chance he returns under the bright lights on the biggest stage.

James Morel(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

James Morel expects to graduate in May 2025 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Morel has written articles for AZPreps365 and run broadcasts with the ASU Pac-12 stream team.