Saturday Was a Big Day for Arlia

Weirton native Connor Arlia caught four passes for 39 yards in Saturday’s Gold-Blue game.

That, in itself, is nothing to write home about.

So why was Arlia doing just that after the game?

Because Saturday was bigger for the Madonna graduate than four catches for 39 yards.

A two-year walk-on, Arlia was bestowed a scholarship after winning the Tom Nickolich Award, which is given to a walk-on team member who has distinguished himself through his attitude and work ethic. The honor is in memory of the former WVU player (1979-82) who died of cancer in 1983. The award is presented annually by the Blue and Gold News but chosen by the coaching staff.

And, along with Will Clarke and Isaiah Bruce, Arlia received the Iron Mountaineer Award, given annually to the players who test the best at the conclusion of winter conditioning.

”We knew about the Iron Mountaineer (Friday night),” Arlia said. ”That’s an award I really take pride in. I kinda pride myself on working hard. That’s what this team is all about.”

Both honors were announced publicly prior to the game Saturday. Arlia found out about the Nickolich the same time the approximate 8,000 fans in the stands did.

”And then they told me I got the full scholarship, it was amazing,” he said. ”I was all excited, I got those two awards and then you have to go play a game.”

Given all of that, four catches for 39 yards isn’t bad.

”He’s a tremendous kid,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said of Arlia. ”He’s a West Virginia kid. He comes from a great family. He’s as good as they come from an academic standpoint, it doesn’t get any better than his work ethic. He’s a guy that you want on your team. He’s not the most talented kid that we have, but he works his tail off. He has earned his right to be on this team and to be out there on the field.”

Clearly, not every football player works as hard as Arlia, but the WVU coaches sure wish they did.

It probably doesn’t sit well when a decorated starter gets shown up by a walk-on.

”They say stuff in the locker room about it,” Arlia said of his teammates. ”Especially some of those defensive guys. I’m always blocking, probably after the whistle and stuff, which they don’t like too much. We get along so well. Me and all the guys on the team. It’s been great so far.”

Arlia doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit. It’s not in the family genes, or vocabulary.

”Growing up, my family, my mom, my dad, my grandfather who actually just passed away, he just preached that growing up you have to go harder each and every day than you did the day before,” Arlia said.

Defensive leadership?

If there was something missing during WVU’s worst season of defense in its history, it was leadership. When the questions came up, there were blank stares. Guys like Reed Williams, J.T. Thomas and Bruce Irvin had long left the building.

It was a new scheme. Williams, Thomas and Irvin played in the same scheme under the same coach the entire time they were there. They not only knew what they were supposed to do, they knew what everyone else was supposed to do.

Last year’s guys had a brand new scheme, under a pair of new coordinators. Forget about everyone else’s responsibilities, they weren’t fully aware of their own. For that reason, there wasn’t a lot of on-field guidance.

The biggest contributor on that side of the ball was a freshman in Karl Joseph.

A year later, some of those young guys got a little older – and knowledgeable.

”I feel good about our defensive leadership with Will, Shaq Rowell and Darwin Cook, those are some guys that have played a lot of football,” Holgorsen said. ”Brodrick Jenkins, Travis Bell and Doug Rigg have played a lot of football, too. We have guys, defensively, that are older, mature and have been through the ringer. I like where we’re at with our defensive leadership. It’s night and day from where we are offensively.”

That’s right. This defense is ahead of the offense.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: