Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer
Daniel Arias was not close with his father and had not seen him in years, but that didn’t make the final goodbye any less painful.
In fact, when Arias took a quick leave from Colorado spring football practices earlier this month to attend his father’s funeral in the Dominican Republic, a flood of emotions hit the 20-year-old.
“When I saw him in the coffin, that was the first time in like 12 years, 13 years,” Arias said. “It was rough. We weren’t too close, but just all the memories and all that stuff (from the past) just filled my heart with anger and confusion. It hurt really bad because now it’s too late to ask him why.”
Arias may never get the answers he wants to some questions, but he’s driven by his past. His father’s passing, which came amid the daily grind of trying to earn his spot in the lineup as a talented, young receiver, has served as a reminder that he can’t stop pushing.
“When I was in the Dominican Republic (for the funeral) and seeing what my family was like and seeing how they believed in me that I’m going to make it, that I’m going to be successful at this, it just pushes me,” said Arias, who will be a true sophomore for the Buffs in the fall. “I know I don’t want to live how I used to live back then and I know I want a better life for my mom and my family, so I’m just going to keep going and keep pushing myself until I get to the top.”
A 6-foot-4, 200-pound receiver with exceptional athleticism, Arias is part of a deep and talented crew of receivers, but said this spring has “been pretty rough” as he’s dealt with the emotions of losing his father.
“Just coming back and coming into my normal routine has been kind of hard, but you know, I’ve just been staying close to my family, staying close to God and just doing my thing, just getting back to me,” he said. “It was a rough start, but I’m just going to keep pushing and just keep getting better and keep getting coached and one day just get to the top.”
Josefina Dominguez, Arias’ mother, moved from the Dominican Republic to Washington years ago to carve out a better life for her three children. Arias, who didn’t know how to speak English at the time, came to the United States as a kid and stayed close with his mother and siblings. That bond is still tight, and perhaps even more so this month.
“Calling my mom every day has helped even more,” he said. “It’s hard because my mom, my sister and my brother are back in Washington and I’m here alone. Talking to my mom has really helped to motivate me and keep going.”
Arias is also leaning on his faith, as well as his coaches and teammates with the Buffaloes.
“Talking to the players, talking to the coaches has just really helped,” he said. “Praying to God a lot has really helped and just letting that motivate me to succeed and do better.”
CU receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini, who recruited Arias out of Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek, Wash., said, “it’s been a tough deal for (Arias)” this spring, but that the Buffs have worked with him to keep him going.
On the field, Arias continues to progress. Last year, he helped the Buffs on special teams and had minimal time at receiver. He did flash his talent, however, with a 37-yard touchdown catch — his only catch of the year — at Washington, playing in front of him family and friends.
“That touchdown, that was just one touchdown,” he said. “I’ve put that in the past and I just want to keep getting better. I’m always asking coach if I can watch film with him, I’m always looking at ways to get better. That’s my main focus right now.”
Chiaverini said Arias has “elite” speed for his size and is excited about Arias’ potential.
“He’s got a ton of ability,” Chiaverini said.
Going through spring practices, Arias has been boosted by positive reinforcement from coaches and teammates.
“The (defensive backs) are telling me, ‘Bro you’re definitely getting better; your hands are getting better, you’re getting better off your breaks,'” he said. “I definitely feel better. If you know what you’re doing and you’re confident, you’re going to make a play.”
Arias is hoping to make a lot of plays for the Buffs in the future, but his eyes aren’t just focused on the field.
“I know life is not always about football,” he said. “So, I’m definitely just working hard in school and trying to succeed in class so I can reach my dream after football. I know some guys don’t really think about that, but that’s something I’ve been planning out since high school, planning out what I want to do after football.”
After an emotional time this spring, Arias is settling back into his groove athletically and academically, but he can’t wait to get home next month.
“I’m looking forward to that, just being back with my mom, my family,” he said. “It’s going to be really nice after all this stuff. It’s going to relieve some of that stress.
“It’s going to be really needed.”