Daniel Arias still vividly remembers the October night two years ago when his promising sophomore football season was cut short by injury.
With his team backed up on its own 1-yard line, the standout Jackson High School wide receiver raced past the opposing cornerback and caught a deep pass in stride.
But as Arias continued across midfield toward the end zone, he felt his hip pop.
Arias managed to push through the final 50 yards to score a 99-yard touchdown, but the play came at a substantial cost — a fractured hip that effectively ended his first varsity season.
“I won’t forget that night,” Arias said. “It was a shock to me. … (And then) all the things I was seeing online from the same kind of injuries people had — I was scared. I was nervous.”
But just like he did on that season-ending play, Arias battled through the adversity.
After spending two months on crutches and undergoing physical therapy to regain full health, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Arias bounced back last fall with a breakout junior season.
That kick-started a busy stretch of recruiting over the past five months, during which he received 14 offers from Football Bowl Subdivision programs.
Two weeks ago, Arias announced his college decision by verbally committing to play Pac-12 football at the University of Colorado.
“My mom kept on telling me, ‘Things always happen for a reason,’ ” Arias said. “She was right. … Looking back to see where I was as a sophomore and seeing where I’ve gone today, it just makes everything worth it.”
Arias, a three-star recruit who Scout.com ranks as the No. 2 receiver in the state’s 2018 graduating class, possesses a rare combination of towering height and elite speed.
His unique skill set was on full display last fall, when he totaled 1,030 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns while scoring in a variety of ways — from vertical routes to bubble screens to quick slants. He averaged 103 yards receiving per game and 21 yards per catch, and also excelled at defensive back.
Arias further showcased his speed while qualifying for three events at this spring’s Class 4A state track and field meet, placing second in the 400 meters and also reaching state in the 100 and 200 meters.
“You don’t find too many guys who are 6-foot-4 that run like Daniel does,” Jackson football coach Joel Vincent said. “And then you combine it with great hand-eye coordination, vertical jump and great route-running — there’s a reason that he’s receiving all the attention that he is.”
Vincent said he knew there was something special about Arias after watching film of a freshman game during his first season in the program.
“He had like 24 tackles in a ninth-grade freshman game,” Vincent said. “And they weren’t just tackles when the ball came his way — they were tackles when the ball went away and he just chased it down. All the way back then, he just kind of stood out.”
During his sophomore year, Arias quickly progressed at the varsity level before suffering the season-ending injury.
“It’s such a huge step up from freshman football to varsity football, and we just thought that he was getting better every week,” Vincent said.
“(The injury) didn’t allow him to have the rest of that year to grow, but he works hard and he takes his offseason conditioning really, really seriously. (He) came back bigger, faster, stronger and had that breakout year.”
Vincent said Arias’ increased understanding of the offense last season helped elevate his game.
“Any time you run four- and five-wide sets, all four or five of those guys are doing something different on any given play,” Vincent said. “And as he grew more comfortable in the offense and you could plug him into multiple spots so that he wasn’t just locked into one, I think it really helped him flourish.”
After his stellar junior season, colleges began taking notice. Arias received his first offer in February and finished with 20, landing offers from programs such as Utah, Oregon State, Michigan State, Boise State and San Diego State.
“As soon as we got that junior (year) film out, it was non-stop,” Vincent said. “It was like a (college) coaches’ carousel at Jackson High School.”
Arias said the chemistry he built during campus visits with Colorado receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini and current Buffaloes players had a significant impact on his college choice.
“I want a coach that’s going to believe in me the way the coaches at (Jackson) have believed in me ever since I was a freshman,” Arias said. “I saw that in the wide receivers coach.
“The players were just treating me like I was already on the team, and I really liked that. I already felt like I was part of a family … and that’s what stood out to me.”
Colorado is coming off a 10-4 season last fall under head coach Mike MacIntyre, who guided the program to its first winning campaign since 2005. The Buffaloes reached the Pac-12 championship game by winning the South division title and capped their resurgent season with a trip to the Alamo Bowl.
“I’m excited and I can’t wait to be there,” Arias said.
But first, he is focusing on a strong finish to his Jackson football career.
Arias said he has continued to develop this offseason by working with football trainer Tracy Ford and playing on the Ford Sports Performance team for 7-on-7 tournaments in Las Vegas and California.
“It has really opened my eyes and made me into a better player — all those techniques and workouts that I’ve learned at FSP … and going against those top (defensive backs) and top 7-on-7 teams,” Arias said. “Being a part of the FSP family has really helped me in a lot of ways.”
Vincent said that if Arias continues to put in the work, there is no ceiling on what he can accomplish.
“If he maintains his very strong work ethic on the field and in the classroom, I think the sky is the limit for him,” Vincent said. “I think he’s got all the raw talent and natural ability.
“And if he can channel that and focus that, man, I would hope that maybe one day I’d see him play on Sunday somewhere on television.”