Arnold was thrust into the spotlight essentially from the moment he stepped onto North Carolina’s campus, starting his first-ever game at tailback for the Tar Heels in a loss at Georgia Tech in 2005. But the highlights ever since have been few and far between for the former high school standout that earned distinction as an Associated Press first-team all-state selection on both sides of the ball during his senior season.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder slipped down the depth chart at running back after totaling 187 yards on 48 carries, and eventually moved to safety the following spring. Arnold posted 48 tackles during the 2006 season, and was listed on the preseason depth chart last August behind Deunta Williams at the free safety spot.
But only days before the season opener, Arnold was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. And when he finally returned five games later against Miami, he was behind the learning curve and was relegated to special teams duty for much of the remaining schedule.
But Arnold has kept his head up through the ordeals and adjustments, and decided last fall to make one more change before his eligibility expired.
“At the end of last fall, after I had come back from my suspension, I told [the coaching staff] that I wanted to move back to running back,” Arnold said after practice on Monday. “And they said that they would try me out there. But while I was on the scout team, they didn’t have enough wide receivers and they wanted somebody with speed. So I was out there and they liked the way I was practicing and the way I looked, so they decided to move me to receiver.”
And so far, that decision has showed signs of paying off.
“It’s fun,” Arnold said about his new position. “I’m catching on pretty fast. I’ve still got a few things to work on, but hopefully by the end of camp I’ll have it done… The biggest thing is remembering lineups and routes and things like that.”
It’s tough enough having to play for different position coaches during a shakeup like when second-year head coach Butch Davis brought in his staff to replace John Bunting’s crew following the 2006 season, and Arnold’s constant movement around the field would appear to be even more detrimental to a player’s ability to find a groove, but the senior chooses not to view the developments in a negative light.
“It’s been a little tough, because it seems like every year I’m having to learn something new again,” Arnold said. “But it’s not too bad, because I catch on pretty quick, so it hasn’t been too hard.”
If there is a silver lining, it’s that two years at safety have made the transition to wide receiver that much simpler in understanding his opponents on the other side of the field.
“It makes it a little easier to read what the defense is doing, where they might be going and what kind of coverage they’re in,” Arnold said.
Davis is a proponent of finding a role for everyone in program – if a player is particularly effective on sweeps, then the coaching staff will draw up a play to highlight those abilities. Knowing that those kinds of opportunities exist has made Arnold’s offseason approach that much more optimistic.
“That just makes everyone want to work hard,” Arnold said. “You might not be good at one thing, but there could be something else that you’re good at, and they can find something to give you to do.”
After three full seasons of change and the occasional bump in the road, Arnold claims to finally be settled at wide receiver and believes he can contribute at a position that may be North Carolina’s deepest across the board. He is currently working with the second unit, and feels like a return to the offensive side of the ball is best for all parties involved – for one simple reason.
“I like having the ball in my hands and being able to make plays,” Arnold said.