The 49ers have high expectations for Brandon Aiyuk. They expect the 6-foot receiver with an 81-inch wingspan to stretch the field vertically, make people miss and change the tone of the game with one play.
Aiyuk showed off his game-breaking ability during his time at Arizona State, but the skills that made the 49ers gravitate toward him in the 2020 NFL Draft first took center stage at Sierra College in Rocklin, California. Aiyuk arrived at the school as a defensive back, but coach Ben Noonan realized Aiyuk was lethal with the ball in his hands.
Aiyuk finally broke through late in his freshman year. He played both sides of the ball during the last game that season, catching six balls for 121 yards and two touchdowns while holding his man to one catch for 20 yards, Noonan told ESPN's Nick Wagoner.
That summer, Noonan says Aiyuk dedicated himself to football, spending most of his time either in the weight room or working with the quarterbacks.
"It gets up to a good 110 degrees, and then he's out there until the daylight is gone with the quarterbacks after a four-hour day," Noonan told Wagoner. "And demanding that the quarterbacks stay, you know, whether their arm was falling off or not. And then the other thing that gives you perspective on his personality and work-ethic type of kid he was: He insisted on being on special teams."
Then, in his sophomore season, Aiyuk flashed more of his game-changing skills while on special teams. During a game against Santa Rosa College, Aiyuk returned a kick 76 yards for a touchdown, had six catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns and had 110 punt return yards with two touchdowns called back due to penalties.
"It was the most dominant junior college game I'd ever seen by anybody," Noonan told Wagoner.
With Emmanuel Sanders now in New Orleans with the Saints, the 49ers will expect Aiyuk to slot in immediately and fill that void, forming a fearsome three-headed monster with tight end George Kittle and Deebo Samuel.
The 49ers had Aiyuk atop their draft board along with Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, and even debated taking Aiyuk at No. 13 overall. Instead, they waited, believing a sub-par 40 time caused by a core muscle injury might force the ASU star to slide. It did, and the 49ers traded up from No. 31 to No. 25, leapfrogging the Green Bay Packers, to get the guy head coach Kyle Shanahan wanted.
Aiyuk, Kittle and Samuel will give Shanahan three receivers who excel at making defenders miss, turning short gains into game-altering plays. Aiyuk could struggle to see target early in the season, but the 49ers plan for him to play big role in their 2020 Revenge Tour back to the Super Bowl.
Aiyuk has the ability to change the momentum of the game in a matter of seconds. It's been apparent since his days at Sierra College. That's why Herm Edwards brought him to Arizona State, and that's why Shanahan and general manager John Lynch made him a 49er.
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