MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia's receiving corps has begun to thin. Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen announced Thursday that Connor Arlia and Will Johnson have left the program and intend to transfer.
"They're great kids who just want to play," Holgorsen said. "I will release them anywhere they want to go."
After the departures, 20 receivers remain on the roster. Arlia, though, said his decision to transfer had nothing to do with the crowded field.
"I think there's a time in your life where you're at a crossroads and you need to make a change," Arlia said.
Arlia, a junior, decided to transfer last week after discussions with his family. He admitted his coaches and teammates were "very surprised" by the move.
The Weirton, W.Va., native was among the most experienced receivers on the roster. He had seven catches for 43 yards last season.
Arlia stood out this spring and was named an Iron Mountaineer honoree for his work in the weight room to bulk up his 5-foot-9, 181-pound frame. He said he has been in contact with a handful of schools but has not determined where he will transfer or whether he will continue to play football.
"It was always a goal and a dream of mine to play at West Virginia," Arlia said. "I did that, and I thank God every single day for it. It was just time for a change for me."
Johnson redshirted in 2012, his only year on campus.
Leadership remarks clarified
Holgorsen and a handful of West Virginia players landed the program in hot water after their comments regarding a lack of leadership on the team last year made national headlines this week.
"We have to develop leaders," Holgorsen said Aug. 5. "It was a big issue on last year's team -- in a bad way."
Despite being led by offensive dynamos Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in 2012, the Mountaineers lost five consecutive midseason games and limped to a 7-6 record.
Though Holgorsen and the players never mentioned a specific player who lacked leadership, their comments were interpreted by some as an indictment of Smith, who now plays for the New York Jets. New York coach Rex Ryan blasted the Mountaineers for criticizing Smith, saying the situation "tells me I'm glad my kid never went there [West Virginia]."
Several Mountaineers backed Smith's leadership Tuesday and admitted their surprise that their leadership comments had been twisted against him.
"Geno was a team player, as far as we know, and he tried to lead us every Saturday," running back Andrew Buie said.
"It's just unfortunate for us that we came out on the losing end of the outcome sometimes, which made Geno look like he wasn't doing his part.
"That was never really the case. He did what he had to do as a leader."
Holgorsen gave a tired sigh at the podium Thursday and clarified he had never singled out a player when discussing the lack of leadership last season.
"All that falls on my shoulders, but it was taken way out of context," Holgorsen said. "We are developing a whole room full of leaders.
"That's how you win a championship. You don't win a championship with just one or two guys that you look to. You win one with a whole room full of leaders that take the bull by the horns and say, 'We're going to do some special things.' "
Freshman linebacker Isaac McDonald has been cleared to play and will join the team Friday. Fellow linebackers Darrien Howard and d'Vante Henry have not been cleared.
Cornerback Nana Kyeremeh had successful knee surgery and is projected to miss six months. Linebacker Adam Pankey is expected to return in October after offseason knee surgery. As for linebacker Jewone Snow's recovery from a shoulder injury, Holgorsen said: "He's probably year to year, it seems like. I don't know if he's ever going to be back."
Several players -- Kevin White, Dante Campbell, Jordan Thompson, Wes Tonkery and Jared Barber -- are listed as day to day with minor injuries.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.