The Unexpected Leader

At this time a year ago, Connor Arlia was an afterthought among the long line of talented receivers in what was expected to be arguably West Virginia's best passing attack in school history.

The sophomore from Madonna, W.Va., had seen limited playing time on special teams as a true freshman walk-on in 2011 but was just looking to find a way to make an impact on offense as the Mountaineers were preparing for their first season in the Big 12 Conference.

And while his seven catches for 43 yards might not seem like much compared to the monster numbers put up by the likes of Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and J.D. Woods last season, that experience is proving to be more important than Arlia had ever expected now that he is being looked at as one of the leaders of a West Virginia offense that has quite a few question marks surrounding it heading into the 2013 season.

Among a group of inexperienced, young wide receivers, Arlia is WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen's leading pass-catcher from last year's disappointing season that ended in a loss in the Pinstripe Bowl.

It's a role that he might not have originally expected a year ago, but he's embracing it and preparing to do what he can to help the team out.

"I'm just trying to lead every day and push people because this year, we don't have the guys like Tavon and Stedman," Arlia said. "Now I have to do that, and I really like it."

The junior who won the 2013 Tom Nickolich Award during spring practice - an award given each year by the coaching staff to the team's top walk-on - was recently named to the team's Leadership Council by his teammates.

The council is a group of Mountaineers, mostly upperclassmen, who have shown on and off the field that they show the traits that their teammates look for when searching for a leader. Arlia is among players like Quinton Spain, Darwin Cook and Isaiah Bruce to be chosen for this honor by the WVU team.

"I'm trying to bring energy every day because that's what we need," Arlia said. "I'll be honest, there are days when I get tired too, but I know I have to bring that energy because these guys – especially the younger ones – are looking up to me and I have to try to get everyone up every day so we can maximize our potential."

While he's happy to have received recognition for his work from his peers, Arlia knows that there's plenty of work he and the receiving corps still have left to do before the season begins at the end of August.

"This is where we work to get better to improve our strength and our speed," he said. "During the season, you don't want to wear yourself down in the weight room. You can still get in there and make progression, but this is when we're in there every day and we've got to maximize our opportunities.

"Doing what we have to do in the weight room and then working on extra stuff by ourselves is what's going to put us over the top."

While the Mountaineers won't have that star power among the receivers that they had last year, Arlia doesn't see that to be a terrible thing. He thinks it will be a way for the group as a whole to get their time to step up and shine, as opposed to a couple of playmakers pulling most of the weight like Austin and Bailey were able to do at times in 2012.

As of now, West Virginia isn't listening to any of the skepticism from outside the program regarding all of the question marks on offense.

"We know that we can only control what we can control and we're just going to put in the work and whatever happens from there happens," Arlia said. "We have such a great team atmosphere and everyone's working hard every single day and we all get along. I feel like it's really starting to come together right now."


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