The Blue & Gold News is proud to present the Tommy Nickolich Award to the walk-on member of the Mountaineer football team who has distinguished himself with his attitude and effort. It was established in 1991 as a memorial to Tom Nickolich, a former WVU walk-on player who died of cancer in 1983. This year's winner, Connor Arlia, exhibits all of the work ethic necessary to make the climb from unknown walk-on to potential starter.
Earlier this week, we spoke with Connor Arlia about his veteran role on the 2013 Mountaineer football team.
No one at West Virginia has ever dogged Connor Arlia for his work ethic. He's without a doubt one of the most hardworking players on the roster.
When he came to WVU, he weighed in at 215 pounds, and for someone at 5-foot-9, he was a bit bigger than he should be. Since then, he's dropped down to 178 pounds due to a strict diet and work with the strength staff.
That's just an example of what he's all about.
So, when Arlia admits that he's missed a block on the same screen play twice since spring practice started, you can bet that it bothers him.
Arlia has the experience from last season that many of his teammates at receiver don't have. Without the likes of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey around, the Mountaineers are looking for someone – anyone – to step up.
The Weirton, W.Va., native will be the first to admit he doesn't have the speed of Austin or the hands of Bailey. But, he does have the work ethic to make a contribution this season, and he might have to be the leader of a youthful group.
"Obviously we lack experience as a group, but we're working hard. We really, really are. There's things that we do well some days, and there's things that we do bad some days," he said. "We just need to keep pushing and keep improving everyday. That's the biggest key."
Few know what the Mountaineers' receivers will look like a year from now, and even Saturday's spring game might not tell the best story.
"When I look forward, I think I see us being gritty, being the hardest working receiving corps in the country. We might not have the biggest, fastest or strongest guys, but we're going to be smart and go hard as we can every play. We're going to do the little things right," Arlia said. "Our coaches are pushing us really hard right now, and we don't have any other option but to be that type of player, otherwise we won't be out there."
The junior admitted that at times last year the group wasn't working as hard as it could because of the talent of Austin and Bailey. The coaches never said that about Arlia, though. They always praised his effort, and that's perhaps one of the biggest reasons that he made it on the field.
"It feels a little different, because I know more and I do have that experience. I feel more confident. Even I need to keep grinding and working harder," he said. Without a doubt, West Virginia is going to enter the 2013 season as the underdog, a role it hasn't realistically played since before it went to its first BCS bowl. While it might not necessarily be welcomed considering it means the team isn't at the level it was at points over the last eight years, it does allow for a new attitude.
"In my life, I've always embraced that underdog role, and I'm a huge fan of that. That's what we are this year," Arlia said. "A lot of people don't know about us, but we're just going to put in the work and the effort to improve, and I think hopefully God willing we'll show some people what we have." Arlia is working to improve his route running and speed this spring. He'll have an opportunity to continue those goals in the summer, as well.
"I've really worked hard in the winter to change my diet. The strength coaches are great with speed stuff," he said. "I think it's just a process, and after this spring, it's going to be an important this summer to improve more on my diet and my body type."
Oh yea, and he'll be working on that screen block, too.
|PAST NICKOLICH AWARD WINNERS|