High hopes for Texas A&M's new No. 2

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- For two seasons, the man donning No. 2 in maroon and white made history. Texas A&M was forever changed and a lasting imprint was left on college football.

Life after the exit of a player of Johnny Manziel's caliber is certainly different, but when the Aggies began spring practice almost three weeks ago, No. 2 was still running around the practice field.

"Actually, I did see No. 2, he was Speedy Noil," coach Kevin Sumlin said with a hearty laugh. "And he looked pretty good today."

Yes, a new No. 2 is in Aggieland, and fans are hoping he can be as exciting as his predecessor. That's a ton of expectation to place on a high school recruit who should be getting ready for the prom, but Noil is not your typical recruit.

The five-star prospect, ranked as the No. 1 athlete in the country and the No. 7 overall player in the ESPN 300, represents the upward direction Texas A&M's football program has moved since joining the SEC. Five years ago, it would have been hard to picture the Aggies going into LSU's backyard and snagging a recruit that the Tigers wanted. But that's what they did with Noil, a product of New Orleans' Edna Karr High.

If his lofty status, success at the high school level (he led Edna Karr to a state championship in his junior season) or pure ability (the nickname "Speedy" is appropriate, given his 4.45-second electronically timed 40-yard dash) wasn't enough to excite Texas A&M fans, his confidence, represented by the fact that he's donning Manziel's jersey number, should.

Through a week's worth of spring practices (Texas A&M took last week off for spring break), the reviews of Noil have been positive.

"Man, he's good," senior receiver Malcome Kennedy said. "For him to be a high school receiver ... he already possesses a lot of skills that college receivers have. Just as far as getting in and out of breaks, fundamental stuff and technique, Speedy is far along. He's pretty much a beast, man."

It doesn't surprise receivers coach David Beaty. The veteran assistant called Noil the "best receiver in the country" in his recruiting class and said the 5-foot-11, 190-pound receiver is "explosive as anybody I've ever seen."

"Combination of strength, speed and explosiveness," Beaty said. "Really smart guy. Played the quarterback position a lot [in high school] so he has a little bit more of an understanding than some of my guys that come in. ... He'll look at it and sees the entire picture, which it takes some kids two-to-three years to do that. That's advancement for him and for us."

There is certainly a learning curve, especially adjusting to being a full-time receiver and acclimating to the pace of Texas A&M's up-tempo offense. That, along with learning the proper spacing for receivers in the offense, might be Noil's biggest challenge. But once he masters that, the Aggies are expecting great things.

"He's adjusting to it, but I see potential in him because he's athletic, he runs good routes, he has good speed, and he has good hands also," senior cornerback Deshazor Everett said. "That surprised me. He'll go up and get the ball. Once he gets the offense down, you'll see some things from him that'll be spectacular."

Kennedy, who is the lone returning starter among the Aggies receivers, said he wouldn't be surprised to see Noil make a quick on-field impact this fall.

"He takes [to] coaching well," Kennedy said. "For him to be a five-star recruit, he's very level-headed, he takes coaching well, he loves his teammates, he's always competing. He's not shy, he's up for contact, and he's just a great receiver all- around right now."

There's a long way to go for the new No. 2. But the hopes are high that he will be something special like the last person to wear the number was.

"I look at him every now and then and say 'I can't believe he is here,'" Beaty said. "He was so unattainable but with Kevin [Sumlin], I've learned that there's nothing unattainable. It's just one of those deals where you don't ever know if you'll get a player of that magnitude and who knows what he'll do? But I know what his potential is."