Entering last season, Wake Forest expected Merrill Noel to anchor the defense. The cornerback was coming off of a stellar freshman campaign where he led the nation in pass deflections. For his efforts, "Bud" Noel was named ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and a member of the Freshman All-America Team.
Fans, teammates and coaches alike praised Noel for his passion and dedication on and off the field. Noel's swagger and exuberance emboldened his teammates to fight on. His passion lit a fire into his teammates to hustle. Noel never let a moment pass without enjoying himself and putting on a show for fans. Noel was often seen dancing after a good play and celebrating on the sidelines.
Wake Forest fans and media members alike labeled Noel as the second coming of Demon Deacon legend Alphonso Smith - the ACC career leader in interceptions. Both are diminutive in size (Noel is generously listed at 5' 10" 180 lbs) but make up for it with their physical play, athletic prowess and keen instincts. Also, Noel followed in Smith's footsteps, attending the same high school in Pahokee, Florida.
The 2012 season started slow for Noel, who missed the opener against Liberty due to a hamstring injury. Noel played in nine games during the season, but never displayed the same lockdown corner abilities. He was banged up, coming up a step slow in coverage. The Deacs secondary faltered precipitously, notably against Sammy Watkins of Clemson, who torched the defense for 202 yards and a TD (for 61 yards) on eight catches.
In addition, Noel was among six Demon Deacons to fail a drug test and receive a one game suspension.
In the meantime, fellow sophomore Kevin Johnson developed into the Deacs top cornerback. Since the conclusion of the disappointing 5-7 season, Noel underwent shoulder surgery that kept him on the sidelines during most of spring practice.
Following the injury-ridden season, Noel has fallen under the radar. His name has dropped on NFL scouting reports and ACC preseason rankings lists.
But not for long.
Now fully healthy and more mature after a tough season, Noel appears ready to move forward and build off the promise he showed two seasons ago. He's hungrier than ever, eager to prove doubters wrong. He's excited to play alongside Johnson, forming arguably the most lethal cornerback tandem in the ACC.
ACC opponents take note:
Merrill Noel has his swagger back.