When he looked back for the ball midway through the first quarter on Nov. 6, Colorado’s Daniel Arias couldn’t believe there was nobody near him.
“I didn’t know I was that open,” he said. “I didn’t know (the Oregon State defender) was going to bite that hard. I’m looking, like ‘Where’s my guy at?’ And I’m like, ‘OK, I can see the ball coming. I gotta make this catch.’”
He did, and while it wasn’t a pretty catch, it resulted in a 43-yard touchdown for the Buffaloes.
“I know that the catch was so awkward,” Arias said with a laugh. “My coaches were making fun of me for the awkward catch. I was like, ‘Coach, the first catch has got to be ugly. I’ll make the next one cute.’”
Pretty or not, Arias will take it. The fourth-year junior is enjoying the best season of his career with the Buffs (3-7, 2-5 Pac-12), who host Washington 4-6, 3-4) at Folsom Field on Saturday (1:10 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network).
CU’s passing game hasn’t generated big numbers this season, but Arias has caught 15 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown and he has more than doubled his career production.
“It’s been really exciting for me,” Arias said.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Arias, a Dominican Republic native who graduated from Henry M. Jackson High School in Washington, has always had exceptional physical tools, but he’s showing them off more than ever this season.
An excellent special teams player for the Buffs, Arias had caught just 10 passes for 204 yards during his first three seasons combined. He was targeted just 24 times in those three years.
This year, he has started all 10 games and been targeted 25 times. He’s caught six passes for 122 yards in the last two games.
“It feels really good to just make plays,” he said. “It feels good to get started early in the game. I know that sometimes it’s kind of hard but I don’t let that faze me. I just have to do my job and like coach says, the ball finds you at weird times throughout the game. I’ve been really blessed and really fortunate to start early in these (last) two games. I just have to keep working, keep working on my skills and just keep developing and do my best in helping the team.”
To do that, Arias has had to block out some distractions.
“I’ve been going through a lot,” he said. “It’s been difficult. There’s a lot of stuff happening with my grandpa back home, but like my coach says, you can’t let what’s happening outside distract you from your work. So I’ve been trying my hardest and I’ve been doing actually really good, just letting the outside life not affect me with my play.”
Arias has become a more reliable target for freshman Brendon Lewis and is finally gaining some consistency in his game on offense.
He is also once again among the Buffs’ leaders in special teams points. Based on CU’s points system, Arias is tied for the team lead with 19 points. Arias ranks eighth in CU history with 70 career special teams points and he’s second with 26 forced fair catches. He needs two more to break the mark of 27 set by Ryan Iverson (2010-13).
Just as important to Arias is that he’s six months away from earning his degree in strategic communication.
“It’s crazy. When they say college goes by fast, college goes by fast,” he said. “I’m the first one in my family to graduate. It’s a really big deal, so I’m excited.”
For now, Arias wants to finish this season on a high note. He had a career-high 70 yards last week at UCLA, but is aiming for his first 100-yard game (or two), and wants a couple more touchdowns before the season is over.
“That’s my goal, so I’m gonna keep working hard and it’s being consistent, it’s doing my job,” he said.
As for next year, Arias said he’s not sure what he will do. Like so many players around the country, Arias has an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. He could come back to CU, transfer to another school, or move on from football.
“I’m sort of just focused on this season,” he said. “My goal is to just finish the season strong. I’m not really getting ahead of myself. I’m focusing on what’s now.”