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Arlia takes advantage of his opportunity

November 15, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

MORGANTOWN - West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith says guys like Connor Arlia push him to work harder and get better.

Take a second to wrap your head around that.

Smith is WVU's record holder in nearly every category in which he could possibly could be. Arlia is a 5-foot-9, 183-pound, not particularly fast or strong walk-on from a tiny, in-state single-A school whose biggest claim to fame up to last week was a jet ski accident in which he suffered a broken leg, a bruised lung and broken ribs days before the Orange Bowl last season.

Yet Smith, who is seen by many as a first-round pick in next spring's NFL draft, has a fairly deep admiration for Arlia, and players like him.

''They make me go even harder,'' Smith said. ''They work; they don't complain. So why should I complain? I just go out there and work my butt off, and I enjoy working with those guys because they always push me.''

Arlia, a Madonna graduate whose determination dwarfs the biceps of most five-stars, made a different type of splash last week.

He took advantage of an opportunity given to him by coaches who took notice of his selfless, give-it-all attitude, and caught three passes for 25 yards against Oklahoma State, jumping career numbers that had stood at one catch for 14 yards since the James Madison game.

''I was just blessed to get an opportunity,'' Arlia said. ''When you get an opportunity, you have to take advantage of it and go your hardest and be all in for the team. That's how I approach every day.''

In the last two weeks, two receivers have left the program, which would make you believe that's how the door swung open for Arlia.

Perhaps not.

''I coach the guys who are out there,'' offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. ''It's not like the guys who aren't out there were doing anything spectacular.''

Arlia and Smith, as well as all of the WVU coaches, know exactly how Arlia cracked the two-deep.

''Connor brings some toughness to the inside,'' WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. ''He will get in there and stick his hat on somebody and fight for everything that he is worth. That type of guy is important.''

Dawson agreed.

''He works extremely hard and it matters a lot,'' Dawson said.

''The bottom line is he's going to find a way to be successful. Maybe he isn't the fastest, and maybe he isn't this and maybe he isn't that ... He's always asking, 'Coach, what can I do to get better?' He works hard. He's just a great team player.''

When Smith drops back to pass, he doesn't see a guy who has no business on the field with decorated players like himself. He sees a winner.

''I've always had an extreme amount of confidence in Arlia,'' Smith said. ''It dates back to in the summer when we were all coming out here on Saturdays and he was out there. I know that guy's going to give everything he's got every time he takes the field. He's a competitor. He works extremely hard at his craft, and I respect him for it because he's a walk-on and that doesn't happen for a lot of guys.

''You have to really love the game and really have something about yourself to go out there with guys with scholarships, guys who were ranked this and that. He's an underdog. Him and Ryan (Nehlen, who had four catches for 26 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys). They go out there and compete. That's all you can ask from those guys. They get the job done as well.''

Yes, Arlia was living a dream. Yes, he knew he was beating some fairly large odds. Yes, he knows their are plenty of scout team guys who the coaches never bothered to learn the names of.

For every walk-on who has a three-catch day, there are five that never recorded a significant statistic. Arlia didn't want to be one of those guys after a decorated career at Madonna that was capped by being named the MVP for the North team in the state's annual North-South All-Star game after being named the MVP of the Class A state title game.

''When I came in, I came with the mentality that I was going to play,'' Arlia said. ''I just put it in God's hands and tried to go hard as I could. If I got a chance, I got a chance. If I didn't, I didn't. All I could do is give my all.''

For Dawson, it was never ''if,'' it was when.

''I told him earlier in the year. I sat him down and said, 'there's going to be a time this year when we need you to play, and we need you to make plays. I know how a season goes,' '' Dawson said. ''And it happened. And in my opinion, for really the first true game, whole game he's played, I thought he did a good job.''

West Virginia simply is not a state that produces a lot of Division I football players.

There are 16 in-state natives on the Mountaineers team. Of those, most fans have probably heard of fewer than half, with the most notable being offensive lineman Josh Jenkins.

''It's great coming from the state,'' Arlia said. ''It was always my dream to play Division I college football. Being able to represent the state is a huge thing for me.

Two of Arlia's catches against the Cowboys required an official's review. Did he catch them in bounds?

''After I caught it, I really was worried more about getting lined up fast like our coaches preach to us, and really getting ready for the next play,'' Arlia said. ''It definitely felt good. I'm thankful I was able to hang onto it, and hopefully I can have some more to help our team.''

As they were looking at it, so was he.

''I'm not going to lie,'' Arlia said. ''When I first caught it, I knew it was tough but I thought it was just routine. Then when I saw it up there on the big screen, it was kinda cool to see that.''

So he'll keep doing what he does. Work hard. Defy odds. Get better.

''It's all for the team,'' Arlia said. ''Every time I'm on that field, I'm going to give my all and go as hard as I possibly can for my coaches and my teammates. That's what it takes to win, so that's what I'm going to do.''

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