Passion personified, Bubba Arslanian is the leader of Akron football

Charles Egli
Correspondent
Akron Zips linebacker Bubba Arslanian (27) celebrates with teammates after sacking Bowling Green Falcons quarterback Matt McDonald (3) during the second half of an NCAA football game at InfoCision Stadium, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Akron.

Bubba Arslanian has always been a leader. 

Whether that was within the gym of Aurora High School while wrestling, in the Greenmen football locker room or even in the dugout for the baseball team. Taking that leadership to the next level for college is typically a difficult task. But taking it into the locker room of a Division I football locker room was a challenge that Arslanian was ready to tackle.

“Going from high school, you’re coming in and you’re young. You think you kind of have a feel for it and then everything speeds up a little bit when it’s thrown at you,” Arslanian said. “But once you get out there you get comfortable again. You get your feet underneath you and have a strong understanding of what’s expected from you on each play.”

After a breakout sophomore season with the Akron Zips in 2019, where Arslanian finished second on the with 125 tackles and ninth in the nation with 10.4 tackles per game, the linebacker was ready to take a leap, even in a year full of Zoom meetings and less time in the facilities.

“This year was definitely different, especially for the freshmen I’m sure,” Arslanian said. “But being able to watch film together, in a way, it draws you back in and makes you want it more and more. So once we were able to get back together it was rewarding.It was a good feeling getting back on the field and building on what we were working towards.”

Arslanian led the Zips in tackles in their shortened 2020 season, and was named to the Second Team All-Mid-American Conference for his performance on the field. Arslanian was also a big piece of the Zips' win over Bowling Green which snapped a 21-game losing streak. Not only did he record a career-high 16 tackles against the Falcons, Arslanian also forced a fumble and had two tackles for loss including a sack, securing the Zips' first victory under coach Tom Arth. 

University of Akron linebacker Bubba Arslanian works on tackling drills on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020 in Akron, Ohio, at InfoCision Stadium.

“It was a big weight off of our shoulders honestly. Carrying that reputation of 20-21 games gets a little old after a while,” Arslanian said. “It was nice to get that feeling back and show everyone what a winning culture can be and how good it feels to win, and how rewarding it is after working hard all week.”

Arslanian has collected praise for being one of the most passionate players on the field at all times.

“Bubba is a really special player. He’s not the biggest guy out there, but he’s got one of the most incredible hearts that I’ve ever been around,” Arth said.  “The way that he plays the game is really rare, he plays with so much intensity and passion. Bubba is going to get to the football, he’s going to tackle it and make plays, he’s got that special gift, he’s a football player.”

Even Aurora football coach Bob Mihalik, who has been with the Greenmen for 21 years, had similar praise.

“Bubba was one of those guys you heard about from the time he was in youth leagues,” Mihalik said. “He never backed down from any type of challenge, whether it was the offseason or in season he always wanted to compete. In my 21 years, I’ve never had a more physical player, and there would be times we had to remind him ‘Bubba it’s the day before a game, or it’s a Monday walkthrough, you gotta tone it back.”

That passion follows Arslanian off the field as well. Academically, Arslanian excelled through Aurora and was named to the Dean’s list during his breakout year in 2019. Mihalik said this is just another product of Arslanian’s dedication and work ethic, “I’ve always said that when your best players are your hardest-working players, they have a chance to be pretty good,” Mihalik said. “Bubba was our best player during his time here and was also the hardest worker on and off the field. And it always helps a team when your most talented kids are leading by example. It causes everyone to want to step up.”

For 2021, Arslanian has his sights on a few more wins, and another All-MAC selection, “For me it’s about working to get bigger, stronger, and faster every day,” Arslanian said. “I had a goal to be named first team, so next year I have one more spot to take. I’m not upset about it but it does give me something to really look forward to next season and it keeps me hungry.”

Coach Mihalik offered simple advice after saying he was shocked Arslanian was named to the second team this year and looks to make a jump next season.

“Don’t bet against him.”

Illinois running back Ra'Von Bonner (21) maneuvers past Akron defender Bubba Arslanian (27) in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Champaign, Ill.