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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 Charlotte at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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Charlotte 49ers Player Focus: Rico Arnold

After missing the 2019 season, Rico Arnold is determined to make his mark with the 49ers in 2020.

Rico Arnold signed with the 49ers in 2017 as part of the program’s seventh recruiting class, and with one season of action under his belt and three seasons of eligibility remaining, Rico has a ton of potential and all of the tools around him to be great.

With his home state colleges in Georgia looking elsewhere, Rico found a home in one of the youngest FBS football programs in America - the Charlotte 49ers.

In Arnold’s freshman season, the 6’1” wideout stepped up when his name was called, finishing third on the team in receiving with 23 catches for 310 yards and a touchdown. His best performances came in the middle of the season as the next-man-up mentality rang true. Victor Tucker exited due to injury in Week 5 against UAB, and Rico used the additional reps to total his best collegiate performance with 7 catches for 109 yards. Rico caught 19 of his 23 passes on the road, with more than half of his total yardage coming in the fourth quarter of contests.

The 2018 season was one that came with bumps and bruises for the 49ers. The last season of the Lambert era was hampered by uncertainty at the quarterback position after Chris Reynolds went down in Week 6, and the 49ers’ offense became extremely one-dimensional down the stretch.

Fast-forward to March 2019, where Rico went down with a Linsfranc injury in his right foot during the first practice of the spring campaign, and after a strong showing as a freshman, the development of the Athens, GA, native struck a season-ending detour.

Will Healy’s first season as head coach marked the best season in program history, and even with the first winning record and bowl appearance evoking excitement, watching from the sideline was something Rico wasn’t accustomed too.

“It was one of the toughest situations I’ve dealt with since I started playing football,” said Arnold. “Watching from the side helped me some, but missing this entire season was tough. I felt like it was something from God - He wanted to make sure I focused on Him.”

Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds had some high praises for Rico’s comeback season following the first spring practice of 2020.

“You can just tell Rico has had that hunger to get back on the field,” Reynolds said. “He’s worked extremely hard to get back, and he’s always been a guy with a ‘try and outwork me’ attitude. I’m pumped to have him back. He is going to be a huge addition.

The receiving corps was filled with talent in 2019, but with Noah Henderson and Micaleous Elder having moved on from the program, there are plenty of reps for the taking. With his health nearing 75 percent, Rico will be relatively limited throughout the spring campaign, but as fall rolls around you can expect to see No. 21 making plays for the Queen City faithful.

Rico sat down with Underdog Dynasty earlier this week to talk about his early childhood, how he ended up at Charlotte, and what he’s looking forward to this season.

HB: Who was your favorite player growing up?

Rico Arnold: AJ Green. I’m from Athens, so watching him he was going to win the Heisman at one point before he got suspended. He was going crazy. I always had his jersey growing up. Now, I would have to say my favorite player is Calvin Ridley. The way he runs his routes and comes out of his brakes - he just does everything, really.

HB: Tell me about when you started playing football.

Rico Arnold: I played for the Dolphins when I was four. My cousins always played, so I was next up. When I got out to practice I turned around and started walking back to my mom, and she told me that if I didn’t want to be out there we were going to leave. A person who was in my life at the time influenced me, and he was just telling me everything would be good. I went back out there and I’ve been on the field ever since.

HB: What has inspired you to keep playing?

Rico Arnold: My family. I want to see the people around me elevate their lives, and I feel like if I do that with my life I can take them with me, and just make sure that everybody eats. A nobody left behind type of thing. I love the game though. I try to learn everything I can from the game. I’m a fan. If you love the game it is going take you further than you think. If you love it, it is going to be a lot easier than if you just like it. If you just like the game you aren’t going to last long. This is a tough game - you’re going to get hurt, you’re going to be tired, you’re going to be destroyed sometimes, but you have to get up the next day.

HB: You had two offers coming out of high school - Eastern Kentucky and Charlotte. How did your recruitment process go?

Rico Arnold: Eastern Kentucky offered me at a high school camp - I went crazy that day. Damian Gary recruited me to Charlotte, he was the wide receiver coach there. He played at my high school and then at Georgia. He was one of the main reasons I came to Charlotte. He always kept it real with me when I was here, and I really liked the direction the university was going.

HB: You committed to Brad Lambert and his staff in December of 2017. What are some of the differences you’ve noticed between Lambert and Healy?

Rico Arnold: Since my freshman year when I got here the program has always been moving in the right direction. We were really one game away from a bowl game in 2018, but Chris Reynolds ended up getting hurt and that really switched it up. This year, when we went on that five-game winning streak, everything was just starting to click for everybody. Coach Atkins was calling good plays, and everybody was just executing.

Coach Lambert was always good to me. He always called me and made sure I was good when things weren’t going right, and always communicated with me. He knew I was a freshman and was going to make mistakes, but he knew I could be that guy that he could count on, so he always held me accountable. To be the first coach in school history is a tough job, but when Coach Healy came he brought a different vibe. More energy, more passion, more everything, really. He wants us to be great so we can take the program to where it hasn’t been before. That’s the type of coach you want to be around, and Coach Healy being here is going to be something for the ages. I’m definitely thankful he came here.

HB: What did that adversity of missing the entire 2019 season do for your character?

Rico Arnold: It definitely tested my faith. I felt like my faith wasn’t there, but as the season went on I started getting closer to God. That’s when I started feeling better and realizing that this was way bigger than me. This is a team game, and I just got to be there for my brothers in whatever way I can.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 13 Western Kentucky at Charlotte
Rico and his teammates celebrating the first touchdown of his young career.
Photo by Steve Roberts/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

HB: The Charlotte offense took a major step forward in 2019 with the emergence of Chris Reynolds. How do you think that translates to next season with a new OC in Coach Carney?

Rico Arnold: I feel like we are heading in the right direction. Coach Carney is definitely the man for the job. Coach Healy makes sure to find the right people for the job, and with me coming back, Vic on the other side, Cam Dollar, Tyler, and the incoming freshman, as long as we are on the same page everything is going to happen the way it’s going to. I think Chris Reynolds is going to be the best quarterback in C-USA this year. He's going to take his game to another level. If we do what we do, we are definitely going to put up a lot of points next year. Especially promoting Coach Carney, I feel like he is more of a passing coordinator, so he’s really going to want to throw the ball. He’s going to call the plays, and we are going to make them, and it’s going to be history type stuff. He could be the best OC to come through Charlotte, but only time will tell.

HB: Chris is going to be relied on even more this year with Benny LeMay heading to the draft. With running back Tre Harbison transferring in from NIU, how has it been getting to know him?

Rico Arnold: When he first got here he was like family already. He works hard, and that’s the type of person I want to be around. Those are the type of people I try to surround myself with. If they motivate me to work hard, I’m going to work even harder and that will help take my game to the next level. He wants to be great, and I want to be great - so we are just going to keep working.

HB: What are your thoughts on Club Lit?

Rico Arnold: That was the best thing after every game. You’re always looking forward to that after the game, so you’ve got to win. Coach Healy makes sure that everyone here is connected, and he makes sure that everybody in the building is having a good time.

HB: You have three more seasons of eligibility remaining following the redshirt season. What are your goals for next year?

Rico Arnold: Goal one is to stay healthy and win the conference. Goal two is to get 50+ catches and try to get a lot of yards after the catch. That’s the type of receiver I want to be - yards after the catch. Make one man miss, and go to the crib. If they go man to man, I’m going to beat them deep. When my number is called I want to come up with that big play to give our offense the spark. I have that scoring mentality, and that’s what I’ve always tried to do since high school - take it to the crib.

HB: Lastly, who is Rico Arnold off the field?

Rico Arnold: I would say I’m a funny guy. I always try to make sure my brothers are good. Growing up, it was tough for me, and I just want to make sure if I’ve got it, my brothers do too. I’m just trying to be a better person. A God first type of guy. Things aren’t always going to go your way, and it’s going to be tough sometimes. Some situations will make or break you, and I just want to develop myself every year to be a better man. When football is over, it’s over. I want to make sure I’m a great family man for my future children. Life is short, and I just want to make sure the people around me are good.

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