Unlikely Leader

When Connor Arlia cracked the lineup last season, he said it was no surprise. He had walked on at WVU because he thought he could play at the FBS level. But even he may not have expected to enter spring as one of the leaders at his receiver position.

Yet here he is, the former standout at Weirton Madonna going from Class A football in high school to the front of the class in college. He and Jordan Thompson had the most receiving yardage in 2012 of any of the receivers still on the Mountaineer roster in 2013.

Sure, the total was only seven catches for 43 yards for Arlia, but it's still enough for him to enter the spring as one of the obvious leaders at his spot.

"I don't know that I necessarily [expected that]," Arlia said. "I expected to play, and I expected to go as hard as hard as I could. But to be honest, I put it in God's hands. All I can do as go as hard as I can, and it's just a blessing and a privilege to be that No. 1 guy or whatever going into the spring. But I don't even think of it like that. I just know I have to go get better every day, and that's what I try to do.

"I know that they're looking for me to step up and make more plays," he acknowledged. "But I go into every situation knowing I've got to give my all -- every play, every snap. Whether there's 10 guys in front of me [on the depth chart] or no guys in front of me, I've got to go as hard as I can and do everything I can. That's what I try to do every day."

That's the same attitude Arlia displays any time a question is asked of him. It's tough to get him to be anything but deferential, to get him to go more than a couple of sentences without mentioning the need to work harder and harder.

It is Arlia's unfailing positivity, whether it was last offseason when he worked to recover from a jet ski accident in the days leading up to the 2012 Orange Bowl or this offseason as he works to secure a prominent spot in West Virginia's rotation at receiver, that serves him well on and off the field.

"I feel like it's been going real well," Arlia said of the spring thus far. "We're all competing as hard as we can every day, and that's part of the process of getting better. You've got to have that competition every day. But we all respect each other. We're all so close. We're competing every day, and that's all we can go out there and do."

Indeed, Arlia and all of the other receivers in practice are competing for just about every single second of playing time that will be had this fall. With no Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Ryan Nehlen or J.D. Woods on the roster, there is a distinct lack of returning production at the spot.

The experience Arlia got in his time on the field last year could prove valuable in getting a leg up this year, he acknowledged.

"I think that helps a lot," Arlia said. "It was a blessing to have the opportunity to go out and play last year. And I've learned a lot from the things I experienced last year, good things and bad things. I just think I'm a more confident player."

"I don't know if I would say it's a ‘clean slate,'" he added. "Every day you have to come out and perform and work harder to get yourself better and the team better. That's all I'm trying to do."

There are some big shoes to follow for a small guy (listed at 5-foot-9, 181 pounds) from the northern panhandle of West Virginia. But heading into his junior season, Arlia has the added benefit of having seen how stars like Austin and Bailey found success in coach Dana Holgorsen's offense.

And while raw athleticism certainly had something to do with that, there were other traits Arlia said he picked up from watching those players work.

"Being with Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, J.D. Woods and Ryan Nehlen, those guys, you can see what they're doing, getting all these looks from pro scouts," Arlia said. "To be behind them for two years and hear them talk, get tips from them and watch them play, it's been awesome. It was a great experience, and I learned so much from them. I hope I can take that and use it on the field -- and pass it down to other guys."


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