When the idea of talking to a sports psychologist was first presented to him this winter, Daniel Arias was hesitant.
“It was weird because it’s like you’re talking to somebody you don’t really know,” said Arias, a fifth-year senior receiver for the Colorado Buffaloes.
Arias’ mentors and scholarship donors, Steve and Janis Freel, encouraged him, however, and he’s now grateful for the impact it has made in a short period.
“I just gave it a shot. I just trusted (the Freels),” Arias said. “I’m doing it and it’s been helping me. It’s not perfect. There’s some days where things happen, but it’s a process.”
It’s a process that has made a difference for Arias, who recently completed an impressive spring with the Buffs on the field.
An exceptional student, Arias is also a physically gifted athlete with a 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame and blazing speed. He got on the field immediately as a true freshman and has played in all of CU’s 42 games the last four years. He has been one of the team’s best special teams players, earning All-Pac-12 honorable mention last season.
As a receiver, he caught nine passes in his first three years combined, but had his best season in 2021, with 19 receptions for 237 yards and a touchdown.
This spring, Arias looked better to CU head coach Karl Dorrell, who believes a bigger role has made an impact.
“We’re trying to build a pattern of success, with him being a part of that,” Dorrell said. “I think it’s just him getting more attention, to be honest with you. It really comes down to that, because we had so many other pieces before. … I just think it’s his turn now to be at the top of the list.”
There is no question opportunity helps. Laviska Shenault, KD Nixon, Tony Brown, Juwann Winfree, Dimitri Stanley, Brenden Rice and LaVontae Shenault are all receivers who ranked ahead of Arias at one point in terms of targets and playing time.
Now, Arias is one of the leaders. Baylor transfer RJ Sneed is the only receiver on the team with more career catches, but Arias said more attention from the quarterbacks hasn’t been a focus for him.
“What I’m more focused about is my development: just getting better running routes, getting my mind right, learning the game,” he said. “I’m not really too worried about the opportunity. My focus is, ‘How am I going to be better? What am I going to do today to get better? How am I going to run this certain route better than yesterday?’ That’s my main focus. I’m competing against myself. I’m not worried about all the other stuff. Keep it simple – that’s what my sports psychologist says.”
Despite his initial hesitation, Arias has been seeing his sports psychologist every Monday and quickly realized the benefit.
“I know my body is really important, but my mind is also really important,” he said. “I’ve been doing the right stuff off the field, just taking that time to get my mind right. I feel like that definitely has helped. Also, having the right people in my life, just guiding me through every single day and pushing me every single day, challenging me every single day.”
Through his psychologist, Arias has learned that not every day will be perfect, but the response to adversity is important.
“If I drop a ball, if I miss an assignment, how am I gonna respond?” he said. “Am I gonna think about the past or am I gonna think about the future? That’s what I’m trying to think about.”
Arias said a stronger mind has made a difference on the field and with his confidence.
“I feel like I am playing way better because of that,” he said. “With big guys, you sometimes forget how big you are, how strong you are. I’ve impressed myself in the weight room, even out on the field. Like, ‘Dang, I really did that?’ It’s just reminding myself, ‘Daniel, you’re big, you’re fast. Remember that every single play, every single snap. Remember that you’re strong, you’re fast.’ That’s what I’m trying to get my mind wrapped around, so then it’s just execute.”
Although Arias hasn’t been one of the Buffs’ top targets in the past, first-year receivers coach Phil McGeoghan has been impressed this spring.
“He’s a guy who I’m really counting on this year to take that next step,” McGeoghan said.
In many ways, Arias already has taken the next step. While he hopes for greater production next season, Arias is already in a better place mentally.
“I feel good,” he said. “I feel confident. I feel good out there. I feel relaxed. I just feel different this year. Everything I’ve been doing off the field has just shown up right now, so I just keep my composure and make plays.”