Aurora's Bubba Arslanian fits mold for University of Akron football
Bubba Arslanian’s name is peppered across several preseason All-Mid-American Conference polls, including Athlon and college football guru Phil Steele’s.
The preseason accolades, which have him on the second and third teams, respectively, might be underestimating the 5-foot-9, 205-pound junior.
No one should be surprised if Arslanian opens more than a few eyes with his play in the truncated MAC season slated to begin Wednesday night in InfoCision Stadium against Western Michigan. If his play does surprise people, it’s something with which Arslanian is accustomed.
“It just always has been and always will be, an under-size guy, not a lot of schools took a shot on me and I want to [succeed],” he said. “I carry that with me and I want to prove everybody wrong and, make the most of any opportunity I have.”
His high school coach, Aurora’s Bob Mihalik, agreed.
Mihalik knew that had Arslanian measured out as the prototypical, 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker, UA would not have had a shot at him and told coach Terry Bowden, who recruited Arslanian, exactly that.
And Arslanian continues to make the most of that opportunity. Last year he broke out to the tune of 125 tackles (51 solo, 74 assisted), second on the team behind John Lako. With that performance comes a lot of respect from coach Tom Arth and defensive coordinator Matt Feeney.
“I feel so good about the way Bubba practices and plays. He's the heart and soul of our defense,” Arth said during a recent Zoom call.
Arth appreciates how Arslanian plays regardless of the situation, be it practice or a game. Arth took note of something one member of the coaching staff said about the linebacker.
“’Bubba played a game today. Everybody else practiced,’” Arth said. “Just his intensity, his effort — not that anyone else's was lagging — he is just so different. He truly is an incredible football player and we're really lucky to have him.”
“He's on a wrestling mat out there, no one can block him. It's hard to block the guy,” Feeney said. “He's out there and he's kind of leading the [linebacking] group from that sense and has really taken on a leadership role.”
There’s a logical explanation for being on that metaphorical wrestling mat. Arslanian earned all-Ohio wrestling honors twice while in high school and came in third at the 2016 OHSAA state wrestling tournament. And just for the heck of it, he also played baseball.
The athleticism, combined with physicality, made him the best athlete Mihalik coached in his 20 years at Aurora, the Greenmen coach said. He probably could have earned a scholarship in other sports, he said, but he preferred football.
“Just pure heart. I have a passion for the game,” Arslanian said when asked why the focus on this sport. “I love coming to practice. I love just anything to do with the game and just, it keeps me ... I'm hungry for it.”
He was hungry enough to stick around and take his opportunity. Most players would have probably looked elsewhere when a coach that recruited them is fired. It wasn’t an option for Arslanian. UA is close to home and was the only school to offer him a football scholarship, so location and loyalty come into play. Hearing that he’s the “heart and soul” of the team certainly incentivizes his situation.
“Especially for me, it means a lot, the coach has put out a lot of trust in me and it means a lot,” he said. “[I] take it to the heart and because not a lot of coaches did that back in the day when I first was coming out of high school and to hear that now it really keeps me hungry. You'd want more and to keep working hard day in, day out.”
The fact that he seamlessly transitioned from one staff to the next offers insight into who he is as a person, Mihalik, who has known Arth for years, said. He shared a story about one of his first conversations about Arslanian with Arth after he took the UA job.
Arth, now in his second year, told Mihalik: “The first time we saw him hit, we knew he belonged.”
Apparently Arslanian knew he belonged, too. Mihalik said because he leads with words and deeds, that transition was easier. At this point, were you to put together the prototypical player the UA staff would love to see on their team he’s it. Talented, humble and local.
“He absolutely does [fit],” Feeney said, “and I think it honestly stems from his family, his background. He's raised to be that, a tough, physical, hard-working guy.”
Certainly on Arslanian’s end, those Northeast Ohio ties made his transition from one staff to the next easier.
“You kind of feel out what they're about, how they're going to go about it and you start to feel like, hey, this could work,” he said. “This is going to work and you kind of take that and it gives you something to look forward to.”
And what exactly is he looking forward to? It’s not accolades.
“I really try to stay away from it, outside noise. It doesn't really matter to me,” he said. “I'm going to come here, practice every day, as hard as I can day in and day out. And just looking forward to game day.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about the Zips at https://www.beaconjournal.com/sports/university-of-akron/ . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas
Western Michigan at Akron
Time: 6 p.m. Wednesday
TV/Radio: ESPN3; WARF (1350-AM)