Hard work, being humble

“A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit.” – Proverbs 29:23

Connor Arlia just didn’t see it coming.

No, not a linebacker on a crossing pattern.

Prior to Saturday’s Gold-Blue Game at West Virginia University, it was announced the 2011 Weirton Madonna graduate was honored with the Nickolich Award, given to a walk-on team member who has distinguished himself through his attitude and work ethic.

That means he is no longer a walk-on with the Mountaineers.

He is a scholarship athlete.

Also, Arlia, Will Clarke and Isaiah Bruce received the Iron Mountaineer Award.

“I knew about the Iron Mountaineer Award the day before,” Arlia said. “I didn’t know anything about the scholarship until they announced who won it. I was so excited. I can’t explain the feeling.

“It’s an honor and a blessing and I thank God for this opportunity. I thank the coaches for trusting me and believing in me and thinking that I am deserving of that.”

Honestly, no one should be surprised by Arlia’s progression.

He has never been allergic to working hard.

“Scholarship or no scholarship, this is not going to change the way I approach every day,” he said. “I will still wake up every day with attitude that pap (John Retton) would tell me – and he told me before he passed away – you have got to be better today than you were day before.

“You have to work hard each and every day.

“Receiving the scholarship is not going to change my mentality.

“I will do everything I can to get better and to help the team get better. This is a blessing and definitely an honor.”

“Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:” – Psalm 10:17

Arlia spurned all scholarship offers, including the Ivy League, to attempt to play football at the highest level.

The kid from the small Class A school wanted to play with the big boys.

He’s still there.

“I don’t know if this honor validates my decision to come to WVU as a walk-on,” he said. “I just hope I can be a positive role model to everyone – especially everyone younger than me and in high school. If you want to play Division I football – or anything that you want to do – you have to work hard, have a relationship with Jesus Christ and do the little things every day.

“Anyone can accomplish what they put their mind to – that’s how I try to approach every day.

“Coming from Madonna – a small West Virginia single A school – does mean a lot and especially coming from West Virginia and earning that scholarship.

“But, that’s not the reason why I did it. I love the game. It’s been so good to me.”

This also means coming from a supportive family.

I can imagine Arlia being the same age as his younger brother Santino (9) and telling his parents back then he was going to play football at WVU and then in the NFL.

I can imagine parents Mike and Maribeth looking at him back then and, like all parents, smiling and saying something like “I’m sure you will Connor.”

“I know my parents just looked at me and smiled,” he said. “I know they just kind of laughed.

“It’s humbling to be in this position and I am so thankful for that. I pray that I never take anything for granted. I just have to enjoy every minute of it.”

“Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.” – Proverbs 16:19

Arlia has about two weeks left of the semester before summer begins. The athletic coaching and education major says his GPA is about a 3.6, but is also looking for back-to-back 4.0 semesters.

“I’m still not sure what the goal is after I am done playing football here,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.

“When I first got here, the first semester was the toughest semester and still is the case. But, I think that’s the case for everyone coming into college. You just don’t know what to expect.

“Playing football and going to school is all about time management. It’s not a job because it’s so much fun, but the hours are like a job. You have to have your priorities straight. It is something my family has always been preaching to me about. It’s God, family, school work and then WVU football.

“I have to approach it like that.

“It gets tough at times, really tough.

“The main thing, though, is you have to go to class.”

“But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” – James 4:6

Arlia now will wear a new role for the Mountaineers.

He will still be in the slot, but it goes far deeper than that.

“I know my role will definitely change,” he said. “The coaches want me to bring more of a leadership role. I will still come every day with a positive attitude. I think I have always shown leadership qualities, but they were always visual leadership qualities.

“The coaches expect me to be more of a vocal leader.

“We have a lot of dedicated guys on this team and we are all in as a team. If it takes dragging someone to do extra work, that’s something that coaches are looking toward me and other guys on this team to do.

“I will continue to honor God, work hard, be a good role model and perfect my craft and that’s all I can do.”

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at mmathison@heraldstaronline.com and can be followed on Twitter at @MathisonMike)