Former Sierra College standout Brandon Aiyuk leads 3C2A connections for Super Bowl LVIII
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, whose amazing catch in the NFC Championship provided the game's lasting highlight, played at Sierra College during the 2016 and 2017 seasons where he amassed 89 catches for 1,533 yards and 19 TDs. Following a prolific career at Arizona State, Aiyuk was a first-round draft pick of the 49ers in 2020 where he earned second-team All-Pro honors this season. On Sunday, he plays in the biggest game of his career when San Francisco and Kansas City square off in Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas. Aiyuk leads a host of former 3C2A student-athletes, coaches and others who will have a role in Sunday's big game. He's the only former student-athlete or individual associated with the 3C2A that is participating or had a hand in this weekend's Super Bowl. Kansas City head coach Andy Reid (Glendale Community College), San Francisco punter Mitch Wishnowsky (Santa Barbara City), Chiefs' cornerback Jaylen Watson (Ventura College) and even head referee Bill Vinovich (Santa Ana College) have been part of the 3C2A. See the chart at the bottom for 3C2A connections to the Super Bowl.
By Chris Bumbaca
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LAS VEGAS, Nevada – For most of one week in the fall of 2017, Brandon Aiyuk boycotted speaking to his head coach. Ben Noonan, the leader of the football team at Sierra College in Rocklin, California, took his Division I-bound, star receiver off special teams going into a game against Santa Rosa Junior College.
Aiyuk was nonplussed.
Noonan’s reasoning, he said, was that Aiyuk had carried, caught and corralled enough for the Wolverines that season already. The coach wanted to spare Aiyuk the additional hits that came with kickoff and punt returns.
Finally, Aiyuk broke his silence.
“He said, ‘Coach, I’ll change the game on the first kick return. I’ll change the game on the first punt return,’” Noonan told USA TODAY Sports.
Noonan stared at Aiyuk, who was adamant.
“And thank God I listened to him,” Noonan said.
True to his word, Aiyuk took a kickoff to the house. He had a pair of punt returns for touchdowns, but both were negated by penalties. And for good measure, Aiyuk had two receiving scores.
More than six years since that prophetic performance, Aiyuk – a Reno, Nevada, native – is back in his home state as the leading receiver of the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, who will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 58 Sunday.
Sierra College head
football coach Ben Noonan
With stars on offense such as running back Christian McCaffrey, tight end George Kittle, left tackle Trent Williams and fellow wideout Deebo Samuel, credit for the Niners’ success this year as an efficient and explosive team hasn't been widely given to one of the figures largely responsible for the unit's output: Aiyuk.
“I definitely think Brandon don’t get enough credit for all the things he’s done since he’s been in the league,” Samuel said.
Aiyuk finished seventh in the NFL in receiving yards (1,342) during the 2023 regular season, a career best by more than 300 yards. His 17.9 yards per reception was also tops of his four-year career, and he scored seven touchdowns.
Demonstrable improvement can be difficult to prove in a wide receiver, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said in October, because a lot depends on their teammates: blocking by the offensive line, the proper routes from other receivers and favorable targets from the quarterback.
“It’s really cool when (Aiyuk) gets rewarded,” Shanahan said.
During the 2021 season, the relationship between Shanahan and Aiyuk made headlines in the receiver’s second season. Shanahan expressed publicly that he wanted more consistency from the 2020 first-round pick.
“He was never in anyone’s doghouse,” Shanahan said. “We were just coaching him.”
Noonan said that Aiyuk has never said a bad thing about his time in San Francisco.
“I really think that was blown out of proportion. It’s hard for me to believe he wasn’t practicing up to their standard,” Noonan said.
Talking about Aiyuk makes Noonan remember how consistent his former player was in practices at Sierra. He loved it, Noonan said. Aiyuk never missed one in two years despite the number of touches he received.
Aiyuk did not start the first three games of his freshman season. But by the fourth game, Noonan couldn’t take him off the field.
“When he wasn’t a starter, he practiced the same way he did when he was,” Noonan said.
Aiyuk also wasn’t the type of player to walk off the field once practice ended. He usually grabbed the quarterback for a dozen back-shoulder fades or another route that may not have been clicking during reps.
“That’s the one thing I always remember about him,” Noonan said.
3C2A Connections to Super Bowl LVIII
|San Francisco 49ers
|Caught 'The Ricochet' to help 49ers win the NFC championship
|Assistant Special Teams Coach
|San Francisco 49ers
|City College of San Francisco
|Harper played two seasons with CCSF before transferring to Oregon. He also coached with the Rams before later joining the Philadelphia Eagles' coaching staff and helping them win Super Bowl LII in 2018.
|West Valley College
|Peters won't be participating in Sunday's game but will have his fingerprints all over it. Peters was Assistant GM for the 49ers, helpiing build the current roster. He was named the Washington Commandeers' GM on Jan. 15.
|A member of Glendale Community College's Athletic Hall of Fame, Reid donated the scoreboard installed in 2005 for Sartoris Field at GCC.
|Santa Ana College
|This is Vinovich's third Super Bowl
|Kansas City Chiefs
|Watson was a member of Ventura's team when it advanced to the 3C2A State Championship game in 2018, finishing his community college career with 73 tackles and eight interceptions.
|From Australia, Wishnowsky started his collegiate career with the Vaqueros. He averaged 39.8 yards per punt, with a long of 77 yards, during his lone season at SBCC in 2014.
|San Francisco 49ers
|Santa Barbara City College
|Greg Wilson has been selected as an alternate official for the game. He currently officiates for the IEAC.
(3C2A connections information compiled by Rebecca Ensing, 3C2A)