WEST LIBERTY - River High School graduate Dylan Potts just needed a change of scenery.
That was the biggest reason that led him to transfer from the University of Akron with two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Though the West Liberty football team hasn't experienced the kind of success it had envisioned, Potts has enjoyed and shined during his first season in the Hilltoppers offense, which is directed by offensive coordinator Gary Kroll, who is a Martins Ferry graduate.
"Anytime you go to a new place, it's really different at first," Potts said. "I've come here just trying to play hard and do anything I could to help the team."
By doing just that, Potts has earned the respect of his teammates and become one of the key cogs on the offensive side of the ball for the Hilltoppers, who have just one game remaining this season.
"I feel like it's worked out well for me," Potts said of his decision to transfer from the Zips. "I've developed a really good bond with the guys on the team."
Actually, the Hilltoppers are a very close-knit unit, which was something that took Potts by surprise.
"We're all a really close team," Potts said.
"Even though we've not had the success we'd hoped for, we've all remained very close and our attitude and approach hasn't changed at all."
Potts is by far and away the Hilltoppers leading receiver. He's caught 47 balls for 510 yards and five touchdowns. The next closest receiver on the squad is Daree Goodwin with 31 catches for 273 yards.
"I think the biggest key for me has been learning the offense and getting onto the same page as our quarterbacks," Potts said. "Every coach and system is different. It's still football, but learning the scheme of things and getting used to the things outside of football are where the biggest adjustments occur."
It wasn't until Potts got on the field in a game situation when he really began to feel comfortable and like he could contribute.
"It's tough to gauge in practice through the summer and things," Potts said. "After the first game of the season, I felt like I could make plays in the offense."
In that first game, at Catawba, in North Carolina, Potts hauled in seven passes for 60 yards.
Fast forwarding to the present, the Hilltoppers close out their first season in the Mountain East Conference on Saturday against Notre Dame College, which is located in Cleveland.
"There was a lot of excitement about the new conference and playing some new teams," Potts said. "Obviously, it's disappointing that we couldn't bring the first MEC football title back to West Liberty, but we're excited to go out and end the season on a positive note."
Potts wasn't just on the team at Akron. Prior to injuring his foot, he was a member of special teams and saw spot duty at wide receiver.
So, one would think dropping down from the FBS level to NCAA Division II would be a breeze. That's partially true, but as Potts pointed out, there are many really good players at the Division II level, too.
"The gap isn't as big as people may think," Potts said. "The biggest thing are size and speed. That's what separates most Division I and Division II players. It's not due to skill, work ethic or anything like that. It's usually about how big a player is and how fast he runs."
So, what's the future hold for Potts?
"I feel like now that I have almost a full season under my belt in this system, I can have an even bigger year next year," Potts said.
Potts isn't the only area product having a solid season for the Hilltoppers. Monroe Central graduate Marcus Schumacher has made 44 tackles and picked off a pass. Defensive lineman Nate Maleski, who played at Bridgeport, has recorded 42 tackles and two sacks. He was named a pre-season all-American.