2 walk-ons in new trio providing WR depth at West Virginia

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Ryan Nehlen considers himself a patient guy.

He has spent the better part of his career as a walk-on at West Virginia, backing up other receivers. And, yes, his grandfather was once the team's legendary coach.

"I'm patient. It burns me inside sometimes. I don't show it. But I try to be as patient as I can," said Nehlen, a senior.

Connor Arlia, is about as unassuming as they come.

A sophomore walk-on from Weirton, W.Va., Arlia had one reception before three key catches last week at Oklahoma State.

Cody Clay was a backup fullback for seven weeks before lining up at receiver against the Cowboys. He's a redshirt freshman from Alum Creek, W.Va.

All three West Virginians find themselves promoted to bolster depth at wide receiver after two players left the team last week.

What they lack in talent, said coaches and teammates, they make up for in heart.

"It means a lot to them. Those [were] three of the most disappointed kids in our locker room after the game [at Oklahoma State]," said coach Dana Holgorsen. "We need more of that to exist. I am proud of how they did that."

Freshman receiver Travares Copeland left for personal reasons after the staff broke his redshirt last month to utilize him when depth issues first came up.

Then West Virginia announced that junior Ivan McCartney, elevated to a starter against TCU, also had left the team for personal reasons. He was not in Stillwater, Okla.

"[Depth] was probably a concern before people left," said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. "I don't know if anybody's got the depth they want ... I coach the guys who are out there. It's not like the guys who aren't out there were doing anything spectacular."

Arlia made three receptions for 35 yards against Oklahoma State, but not without drama. One was a diving catch on the sideline on third-and-long and another gained a first down.

"I was so happy for him, because he has worked his butt off," said Nehlen. "But I told him he's got to make these catches a little easier."

Arlia said he never worried about the details of when he might play or in what situations.

"When I came in, I came with the mentality that I was going to play," said Arlia. "I just put it in God's hands and tried to go hard as I could. If I got a chance, I got a chance. If I didn't, I didn't. All I could do is give my all."

Clay was never targeted in his debut at receiver.

Nehlen caught a touchdown pass from Geno Smith that helped the Mountaineers stay within reach of the Cowboys. The infusion of new energy has been a boon to the team's struggling offense, said Smith.

"I do feel their presence. I respect those guys for what they do for us. They go out there they compete their butts off every day in practice on and off the field," said Smith.

"They make me go even harder knowing I was one of those highly touted guys coming out of high school and they weren't. But they don't complain. They always push me."

Nehlen said he won't think past Saturday, but feels the effort of this group of receivers will show come game time.

"The group of receivers we have here now, we all want it real bad, and I think it's gonna show these last three games," said Nehlen.


Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.


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