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Beast of the backfield: Nate Noel’s climb in the High Country

Ashton Woodruff
Junior running back Nate Noel celebrates with a fan after a score against UNC Sept. 9, 2023. Noel rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns.

From Miami to Boone, the scenery is certainly different for star junior running back Nate Noel. But the talent has not changed from place to place. 

Noel was named First-Team All-County from the Miami Herald, and now has a First-Team All-Sun Belt honor to his name at the collegiate level. The 5’10” tailback has accomplished so much already, but Noel still wants more.

Noel attended Northwestern High School in Miami before coming to the university in spring of 2020. During his senior year in 2019, Northwestern High won their third-straight 5A State Title, where Noel totaled 1,556 rushing yards, 22 touchdowns and helped lead the team to a 13-2 record. Additionally, Noel was on the 4×100 meter relay team, winning a state championship. 

Noel was recruited by the Mountaineers and signed his letter of intent to the university in February 2020. As a three-star running back, Noel had offers from Utah, Syracuse and Louisville, among others. However, something about Boone attracted him to the High Country. 

“When I came to App, I didn’t come to a game or anything,” Noel said. “But it was snowing and I’ve never seen snow, never really been to woods, and never did any of that stuff. I thought it would be a different scenery for me.”

When Noel arrived in Boone for his freshman season, it was during the COVID-19 pandemic. Athletics faced new challenges unseen before, and it was an unfamiliar time for Noel and his teammates. 

“I came in during COVID, so the space around here became totally different because we went from no fans to the most fans we’ve ever had,” Noel said. “Lots of people on campus, classes in-person, a lot of stuff that’s changed.” 

No one expected Noel to make a name for himself in his true freshman season. With a running back room that consisted of Cam Peoples, Anderson Castle, Daetrich Harrington and more, many regarded this running back room as one of the best in the country. This was also after Darrynton Evans, a former 2020 third-round pick, forwent his senior season for the NFL. 

“He came out here and played his heart out. He did what he was told and he hit the holes like he was supposed to,” former Mountaineer quarterback Zac Thomas said after Noel’s 2020 collegiate debut. “I’m proud of him and proud of the way he was fighting adversity.”

Despite the depth at running back, Noel made his opportunity matter since he’s arrived with the Black and Gold.

Noel embraces redshirt junior wide receiver Milan Tucker against East Carolina Sept. 16, 2023. (Landon Williams)

“He plays with such a quick first step, and it was hard for North Carolina to adjust to that,” Peoples said after Noel’s 116 yard and two touchdown performance against UNC in 2022. “I don’t feel like they prepared as well for Nate as they did for me, but it worked out for him and I love that for him.”

During his Mountaineer career, Noel has totaled 491 carries, 2,893 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. Noel credits a talented running back room as extra motivation for his success so far, and how they’ve helped him out throughout his collegiate career. 

“It helped me out a lot because it pushes me everyday knowing there’s somebody else in my spot that’s capable of being a starter,” Noel said. 

Although Noel accomplished everything from a statistical level, there’s one thing he’s yet to accomplish with the Mountaineers: a conference championship. 

App State football won four straight conference championships from 2016-19, but has failed to do so since 2019. With the Mountaineers being bowl ineligible last year for the first time since 2014, Noel says this past off-season provided extra motivation to get back to where this program needs them to be. 

“This off-season was all about the standard,” Noel said. “We were reminded everyday what our standard was. Now, it’s instilled in us and now we know what we gotta do, and we know when we aren’t doing what we gotta do.”

“Nate Noel is what an App State football player is about,”

— Shawn Clark

Noel is in his fourth year with the Mountaineers. From a freshman in 2020, to now a leader on the field in 2023, Noel’s role is a lot different than it once was. 

“Nate Noel is what an App State football player is about,” head coach Shawn Clark said. “He’s tough, he’s dedicated, he makes good grades and you can count on him.”

Since his arrival, Noel notes that he has become a lot more comfortable on the team, and also in terms of reading the opposing defense. 

“It became easier to read defenses as I grow older and I know tendencies more and I’m able to study film more,” Noel said. 

Through all of this, Noel has learned a lot during his time in the cold winters as opposed to the hot summers he once played in Miami. Whether it’s in the swamps of Florida, the mountains of Boone or whatever the future holds next, one thing has never changed for Noel; he produces wherever he goes. 

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About the Contributors
Kurt Zottl
Kurt Zottl, Reporter
Kurt Zottl (he/him) is a junior electronic media/broadcasting major from Waxhaw, NC. This is his third year writing for The Appalachian.
Ashton Woodruff
Ashton Woodruff, Photo Editor
Ashton Woodruff (she/her) is a junior IDS Criminal Justice/Photojournalism major, and a Social Work minor. This is her second year with The Appalachian.
Landon Williams, Photographer
Landon Williams (he/him) is a Junior majoring in Commercial Photography from Winston Salem, NC. This is his second year with The Appalachian. 
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