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A new ballgame: A rededication to school helped Arlington show what he can do on the field

After two years away from football, Park senior Elias Arlington is back helping lead the Wolfpack this season. The receiver leads the Suburban East Conference in receptions and is second in yards. (Bulletin photo by Nick Gerhardt)1 / 2
Elias Arlington tries to get loose in a recent game against East Ridge. He caught eight passes for 160 yards in the game. (Bulletin photo by Patrick Johnson)2 / 2

Park senior wide receiver Elias Arlington doesn’t take suiting up for football games on Friday nights for granted — not after what it has taken him just to get on the field.

Poor grades prevented Arlington from playing for the Wolfpack the past two seasons and he learned plenty of life lessons while away from the game he loves.

On the field Arlington has excelled this season. A speedy and dynamic receiver after the catch, Arlington leads the Suburban East Conference with 27 receptions and is second with 326 yards receiving.

Off the field, Arlington struggled in the classroom. After falling behind in coursework through his freshman and sophomore years, it looked like Arlington might not graduate with his classmates. Now he’s on track to graduate this spring and football served as his motivation to get his life on track.

“I learned to grow up,” Arlington said. “I learned how to take things more seriously. It was a huge life lesson.”

Arlington’s always taken football seriously, but earlier in his career he didn’t take academics as seriously, often opting to lift weights after school instead of studying.

Arlington’s grades started to slip in ninth grade and continued into his sophomore year when he was ruled ineligible for football.

When Park football head coach Darin Glazier took over three years ago he knew about Arlington’s situation and started to work with him to form a game plan to restore his academic standing. Schoolwork came first and if Arlington successfully completed his makeup work, the possibility of a return to football existed.

“We want to see him graduate,” Glazier said. “Would it be OK to get him on the football field? Yeah, we’d love to have him part of our team. He’s always wanted that. If he needed to use that as motivation, I’m all for it.”

Arlington did use a return to football as motivation and embarked on an exhaustive credit recovery program to make up credits for classes he had failed. Glazier said Arlington made up nearly a year and a half of credits prior to the fall.

Arlington appeared on track to become eligible for football this fall in the spring, but still needed to make up three classes during the summer to officially get the green light to return to action.

Arlington, along with Glazier, Activities Director Phil Kuemmel and counselors worked out a plan that would get Arlington back on track academically, and Arlington followed through.

“I think when I see him graduate, when I see him get his diploma, it’s going to be one of the real success stories I’ve seen in my coaching career,” Glazier said. “A kid like Elias, the odds were stacked against him early on and he could have gone one of two ways. To see him sitting here now in the jersey and to see him out there on the field Friday night, helping us get that victory is really special.”

Arlington played a pivotal role in Park’s first victory of the season Sept. 13 against White Bear Lake in Cottage Grove. He had three touchdowns, 75 yards rushing, 50 yards receiving and a 71-yard kick return to help lead the Wolfpack to a 33-27 win. The following week Arlington caught eight passes for 160 yards in a 55-20 loss to East Ridge in Woodbury.

Those within the program always knew of Arlington’s talent on the field, but getting back to the field always remained the secondary goal.

“The past couple of years, everybody knew he was a great player, but no one really knew what he had in him,” Park senior quarterback Sam Domeier said. “For him to come out like this just shows what he could have been doing the past couple of years and how far he could have been. He’s tremendously far from what he’s been through.”

Being back on the football field has added a bounce to Arlington’s step off the field as well.

“He’s really changed as a person, just like in the hallways at school, seeing him more upbeat, happy,” Domeier said. “I’m sure just not being able to play took a toll on him. He was so focused on getting back. There’s a lot more life in him now that he’s getting to play a sport that he loves.”

The last time Arlington played in a game was in his freshman year.

“I got my concussion ninth-grade year,” Arlington said. “It was on a punt return, waived for a fair catch, dropped the ball, kid came and hit me late and that’s how it happened. The rest of ninth-grade year my grades were slipping, couldn’t catch up really. Tenth-grade year my mindset was, not that I didn’t need school, I never really thought of school as important as football. I was young and didn’t really understand how important school was at the time.”

It took time for Arlington to mature and realize that academics and football went hand-in-hand.

Arlington and Glazier developed a close relationship through the process. Arlington spent time after school in Glazier’s classroom working on schoolwork and Glazier kept tabs on him through a health class Arlington had with Glazier.

“The end of 10th grade I had meetings with coach Glazier and Mr. Kuemmel and they were telling me that I couldn’t play,” Arlington said. “It just hit home to me. It just really showed how important school really was.”’

Once Arlington and Glazier started talking on a regular basis Arlington started putting in the necessary work in the classroom. Glazier helped keep Arlington on task with frequent visits and encouragement.

“After I got hired he was around and a great athlete,” Glazier said. “I started to get to know him then, but I also knew what he was like credit-wise. That’s when we started having conversations. ‘You need to take care of classroom stuff. What are you going to do? How are you going to do this?’ That’s when I think the talks started, but I’m not sure Elias wanted to hear that at that stage in the game.”

Arlington now wants to pursue football after high school at a junior college and hopefully wind up with a Division-I program.

“We still have the agreement that we’re not going to see the grades fall off once the season is over because he still has that overall goal,” Glazier said.

-Nick Gerhardt