ORONO – Manauris Arias admits there isn’t much mystery to playing cornerback.
Often, it’s simply a matter of him covering a receiver, one-on-one, and doing whatever is necessary to make sure the ball isn’t caught if thrown his way.
Nobody on the University of Maine football team knows more about the position than Arias, who is a seasoned, four-year contributor at cornerback for the Black Bears.
The skills of Arias and the rest of the secondary will be put to the test again Saturday when UMaine entertains Atlantic 10 rival Hofstra in the 2 p.m. Homecoming game at Alfond Stadium.
“I would say it’s the easiest position to grasp on the defense,” Arias said, “but it’s the hardest one to play, because you’ll be facing receivers on an island by yourself most of the time and receivers are the most athletic guys on the offensive side.”
Arias was rushed into the starting lineup on game day at Hofstra in 2003 after a teammate was suspended for violating team rules. Arias was burned for an 87-yard touchdown in his debut, but responded to earn two Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week honors that season.
“If you play your first year, you’re really playing on pure ability,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove.
The personable young man teammates call “Papi” has been a mainstay in the cornerback rotation ever since, starting 26 of the Bears’ 38 games during his career.
“He’s been an important part of our defense, made great contributions to the program,” Cosgrove said. “He’s a character kid, a great kid to be around. He’s a smart football player.”
Arias made a quick and successful transition to the college game after an outstanding career at Emerson High School in Union City, N.J.. There, he led the conference one season with 133 tackles, albeit at a different position.
“I didn’t like it [cornerback] at first because I was a safety in high school,” admitted Arias, who enjoyed playing in the middle of the field.
He also played quarterback at Emerson and was a teammate of former Bears safety Joan Quezada.
“My teammates really helped me transition to this real well, especially JQ; he taught me the ropes,” Arias said.
Like most UMaine defensive backs in recent years, Arias isn’t an imposing physical presence on the field. At 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, he often is matched up against receivers who are several inches taller.
“It forces you to play with technique and be in the proper position and be on the proper read with your keys,” said UMaine defensive coordinator Robb Smith. “He’s a disciplined player, he knows what we’re trying to do within the system.”
What he lacks in physical attributes, Arias more than makes up for with his football knowledge and adherence to fundamentals.
“I’ve never been the fastest or the tallest guy, but I’ve always followed my techniques,” Arias said. “I really have to focus on that more.”
Arias has racked up 118 career tackles and has made five interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns.
“He’s not the biggest guy in the world and he’s not the fastest, but he’s smart and he’s tough and he knows where he needs to be and what he’s supposed to do and he does it well,” Smith said.
When opponents do try to throw to a taller receiver on Arias’ side, he is usually able to make the play.
“He’s never been a guy that hasn’t welcomed the challenge of a bigger, taller receiver,” Cosgrove said. He won’t back down. He’s a tough kid.”
For Arias, the key is making his presence felt and not sitting back and letting things happen when confronted with such mismatches.
“I have to be more aggressive when they throw it up: Play the hands a little more, just keep fighting,” Arias said.