On the day her son was set to make the biggest decision of his life, Lechelle Noil was nervous.
Speedy Noil -- only his mom and a few others close to him call him by his given name, Devante -- was a five-star prospect from New Orleans Edna Karr and was about to choose between Texas A&M and hometown LSU on national television at the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game. Noil’s grandmother Monica made a joke that summed up what many were feeling.
"'If he doesn't pick LSU, I'm going to pass out,'" Lechelle recalls Monica saying. "I had to tell her, 'No, you're not.'"
Lechelle waited until the absolute last moment to reveal to the family that her son, the No. 7 player in the 2014 class, bypassed the home-state powerhouse in favor of SEC West foe Texas A&M. At that point, she had no choice but inform the family in hopes of avoiding a YouTube recruiting moment on national television a la Landon Collins.
“We felt a lot of pressure family-wise,” Lechelle said. “We had people in our family that said, 'It would be wrong if you don't go [to LSU].'"
More than 10 months later, Noil prepares to face the school he spurned for the first time when Texas A&M hosts LSU on Thanksgiving night at Kyle Field.
* * *
Noil, who’s enjoying a solid freshman season for the Aggies, is the type of player who is difficult for out-of-state schools to pull from Louisiana. LSU keeps almost all of the top-level Louisiana talent in-state.
"It was one-in-a-million for a kid like Devante to leave, to pass up playing for the home state,” said Louisiana Tech running backs coach Jabbar Juluke, who was Karr’s head coach through Noil’s junior season. “It certainly wasn't anything that LSU did not do. I thought they did an outstanding job of recruiting them.”
"I look at him every now and then and say, 'I can't believe he is here,'" Texas A&M receivers coach David Beaty said in February. "He was so unattainable. But with Kevin [Sumlin], I've learned that there's nothing unattainable."
LSU first offered Noil a scholarship as a sophomore. Growing up in Orleans Parish, he earned his nickname from dominating youth leagues at Cut-Off Park.
Sumlin and his staff overcame not only the natural pull LSU has over home-state prospects but also a family tie to the LSU coaching staff.
Lechelle noted that some schools stopped recruiting Noil when they discovered his cousin was LSU running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson.
"It made some of the other coaches back away from him because they were like, 'It doesn't make no sense to go after him if he has his cousin as the recruiting coach [at LSU],'" she said.
Texas A&M didn’t back off. Sumlin, Beaty and then-defensive backs coach Marcel Yates (now at Boise State), who was the recruiter assigned to Louisiana, pressed on.
* * *
Noil zeroed in on five schools: Florida, LSU, Oregon, Texas A&M and USC. LSU was always a factor, but the Aggies, with Sumlin, SEC membership, their high-powered spread offense, Johnny Manziel and a Heisman Trophy, held a certain appeal to Noil.
The Aggies’ presence in the SEC can’t be overstated.
“Kids down this way, they respect SEC football,” said Karr coach Nathaniel Jones, who was Noil’s head coach his senior season. “Other than that, everything else is secondary. If it's not SEC, it's secondary football as far as the college ranks are concerned.”
His official visit to Texas A&M -- the weekend of the Aggies’ 2013 showdown with Alabama -- blew him away, according to his mother. (Like all freshmen at Texas A&M, Noil is prohibited from speaking to the media by Sumlin.) He received ample one-on-one time with the coaching staff, including Sumlin. The Aggies laid out a clear, detailed plan on where they envisioned him fitting in on the field and on the depth chart.
Another critical factor was the fact that the Aggies signed one of his Karr teammates, Noel Ellis, in the 2013 class. Ellis served as his official visit host and gave Noil the comfort of having someone he trusted nearby.
“The official visit pretty much showed him that A&M gave him the opportunity that yes, A&M may be the best choice for him,” Noil’s mother said.
The visit went so well that Noil told his mom a month later he wanted to go to Texas A&M. Concerned he was rushing into the decision, she encouraged him to take more time.
He never took officials to Florida, USC or Oregon. That left LSU and his official visit in December 2013, which didn’t go quite as he had hoped.
“The main thing Speedy stressed to everybody was that he didn't want to do an official visit [to LSU] with a lot of people,” Lechelle said. “But for LSU, I think the mistake was we did it with all their top recruiting players and we didn't have enough time. We had a limited time with Les Miles. We didn't even have much of a sitdown with the offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron. The wide receivers coach, whatever I threw at him, he pretty much agreed with. He didn't have the depth chart laid out, nothing. [Speedy] paid attention to that.”
* * *
When decision day arrived, Noil called his mom’s hotel room before the game. He needed either a hat or the gloves of the school he was going to choose.
“Tell me again, have you changed your mind?” Lechelle asked.
Noil told her he was sticking with the Aggies.
Since his arrival in College Station, Texas, Noil earned numerous fans. His confidence was clear from the first day of spring practice, donning a No. 2 jersey mere months after Manziel finished wearing it (Noil wore No. 2 at Karr High also) and catching a one-handed pass during his first Aggies practice. In 10 games, Noil leads the team with 1,225 all-purpose yards and has made his mark as both a receiver (513 yards, four touchdowns) and a returner (25 yards per kickoff return, 13.6 yards per punt return).
Noil is not yet where he wants to be as a player or where the Aggies expect him to be in time. Sumlin said Noil is still learning to run routes and read coverages since most of his prep career was spent behind center, not at receiver.
"He's an explosive player in the return game, but he's got to continue to improve as a route-runner and when that happens, it'll be something exciting to see," Sumlin said.
So far, things have worked out well. While he might not be wearing the colors some hoped he would, they’ve been supportive of him and his success in Aggieland.
"A lot of family didn't like it, but once they saw him doing what he's doing at A&M, they said, 'I think that was the best fit for him,'" Lechelle Noil said. "'He made a great decision.'"
Noil is definitely anxious for Thursday’s game, according to his position coach.
“He is quiet by nature, but I can see that he is focused,” Beaty said. “He always wants to play well, but I know this is a big game for him personally. He just wants to contribute and get the W.”
With a world of talent, the future is bright for Noil. Friends and family might have long thought that future was at LSU, but the Aggies turned out to be the right fit.
“I think it happened to be the perfect storm,” Jones said. “You have Kevin Sumlin, phenomenal coach, proven, making waves in the SEC. Another big factor is that Texas A&M went to the SEC. Having a teammate there already, having a system there already, Johnny Manziel, Heisman Trophy, it was just a perfect storm that came together at the right time. All things worked out for him. That played a big factor in him choosing Texas A&M.”