Even though Oscar Arias felt like he did well in summer conditioning and practices, the San Benito High senior didn’t know if he had done enough to earn a spot on the roster. In fact, when the Hollister football coaching staff made the final cuts, Arias was a bundle of nerves.
“Because other guys had more experience since I started football late, there was always a feeling of if I did enough,” he said. “I didn’t know if they would keep me.”
Talk about a keeper. Despite being in just his first year of playing organized football, Arias has burst onto to the scene to make a big impact. The 5-foot-8, 155-pound Arias starts at cornerback and is the team’s primary kickoff and punt returner. Not bad for someone who missed all of the team’s off-season winter strength and conditioning sessions because playing football wasn’t on Arias’ mind until the end of his junior year.
That’s when one of his friends’ sister told Arias he should play football, planting a seed that would start the path of joining the tradition-rich Hollister football program. Once the idea of playing football was planted in his mind—it was about a week before his junior year ended—Arias mulled over the decision for the next couple of days.
On the second to last day of school, Arias made up his mind to go to the locker room to inquire about trying out for the team.
“None of my friends wanted to go with me, and I was a little shy,” he said. “So I was thinking maybe I just won’t do it. One of my friends said, ‘Dude, just go and don’t be afraid.’ I decided to go, but the coaches weren’t there. I ended up talking with a football player and he said coach (Bryan Smith) should be coming soon. I got to talk with coach Smith and he said it was pretty late to try out, but he gave me a deadline to when I had to turn all my stuff in and also gave me a schedule. It was crazy how everything happened so fast.”
In the weeks that followed, Arias had a couple of his friends accompany him to Rancho San Justo Middle School, where he would run routes, or what he thought were routes.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing because I had never played before,” he said.
One thing was for certain: Arias already had the stamina and conditioning to play football because of his background in boxing, the sport he grew up competing in starting at age 8. Over the years, Arias sparred and competed under the watchful eye of his coach, Zeke Lopez, the owner of Bulldog Boxing. Arias’ experience in boxing—which requires tremendous hand-eye coordination, agility, quickness and most important, the ability to take a punch—prepared him well for football.
Arias’ work ethic also transfers to any walk of life, especially when it comes to the Hollister football program, which is basically a year-round commitment. Once the summer session started, Arias was all in.
“Every single rep I got in the summer, I always made it 100 percent playing wide receiver or cornerback,” he said. “I was never trying to settle. I always tried to be the best one and make plays. For me, I feel what is the point of doing something if you don’t give it your all? So even though I had never played football before, I had the mindset to strive to be a starter.”
Arias won’t lie: at first, the idea of being a part of the Hollister football program was trying to get a jersey, a status/prestige thing more than anything else.
“But once I got on the field, I knew it was more than just getting a jersey,” he said. “It was about the team and wanting to better myself. I wanted to be good; I didn’t want to be just average.”
Arias went into the summer thinking he was going to play running back. However, it became apparent that the team already was stacked at that position and had other players who were better suited for the position. Arias was then shifted to cornerback and later impressed assistant coach Ryan Bartylla to return punts and kickoffs.
“One day we were practicing punts and kickoff return and I was wondering who would be returning,” Arias said. “I heard my name called to go over and return punts, and I returned the first one in practice for a touchdown.”
Arias said the highlight of his season was the league-opening win over Aptos, a game in which he had an interception, two pass knockdowns and five tackles. Playing the cornerback position—which is referred to as playing on an island since you’re often isolated one-on-one with a receiver—along with returning kickoffs and punts represent a supreme challenge.
In particular, returning kickoffs and punts require nerves of steel, especially on punts when defenders are flying to the ball like heat-seeking missiles, ready to deliver a huge hit on the returner.
“I get more tired waiting for the ball to come to me on punt returns then when I’m actually running with the ball,” he said. “I feel like I’m waiting forever sometimes, and by the time I catch it, the adrenaline takes over and I’ve got to run for it.”
In every phase of the game, Arias has impressed his coaches. He caught on quickly, worked hard and took the instruction he received from them and transferred that to the field in tangible ways.
“He has football intelligence way beyond that of a first-year player,” Smith said. “His explosiveness was on display all throughout summer where his work ethic and dedication really allowed him to make this team. He has worked to improve his game everyday and is extremely coachable.”