- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2000

A dual personality inhabits the hottest commodity of the 2000 NFL Draft, Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington.
On one hand, there is the thoughtful Arrington. The one who plays chess. The one who gratefully acknowledges his experience with the conservative Nittany Lions. The one who remains a bit in awe of his forthcoming step in life, of perhaps becoming the draft's No. 1 overall pick.
On the other hand, there is a bona fide Mr. Hyde, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound bundle of boasts. The one who leaps over some blockers and gives others post-whistle forearm shivers. The one who before last season called himself the best linebacker in college football. The one who often questioned Penn State's willingness to maximize his talents.
And the one who, many believe, can re-revolutionize the professional game in the mold of Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.
"From childhood on up, LaVar has always been a people person," Arrington's father, Michael, said of Arrington's gentler side. "He gets along well with senior citizens. Members of the church have taken to him. Children, babies, for some reason feel comfortable with him… . [But] on the field, his demeanor, when the competition gets hot and heavy then he's ready for hitting. To him, it's like, 'Now we're playing a serious game.' "
It's a game the Washington Redskins, with the Nos. 2 and 3 picks in Saturday's draft, hope to import. Their opportunity largely rests in the hands of the Cleveland Browns, who hold the No. 1 pick and have focused their interest on Arrington, Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown and Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick.
Arrington has heard the comparisons with Taylor, whose acceleration, athleticism and power defined how a generation of outside linebackers would aspire to play. And Arrington enjoys the comparison; he even has said he would like to wear LT's famous No. 56.
"[The comparison] doesn't bother me," Arrington said. "I think it's flattering. [But] out of respect for the greats that [have] played the game, right now it might be too early to compare me to guys like LT. [But] I'm ready to start my own little legacy."
Two LaVar legacies already exist and they aren't little. The first is at Pittsburgh's North Hills High School, where Arrington starred as a linebacker, running back and basketball player; the second is at State College, where Arrington earned first-team All-America honors in each of his seasons as a starter (sophomore and junior).
Arrington carved each legacy by constantly playing with something to prove. His father believes that burn came from a childhood spent trying to compete with his older brother, Michael Jr. Arrington also has a younger brother, Eric.
"Growing up, because of his size, he ended up running around with Michael, and playing with guys who were older," Michael Sr. said. "He was always determined, whether it was basketball or football, that when it was over, they would be able to respect his ability. That just continued [in school sports]."
Arrington said he draws additional motivation from his father, a minister who lost his right foot and part of his left leg in a tank accident during the Vietnam War, and his mother, Carolyn, an elementary school special education teacher. Generally speaking, though, Arrington credits his success to having simply been inspired.
"[Motivation] is the biggest part of my game," he said. "I'm not always the biggest person out there. And I'm definitely not the strongest person out there, but I try not to let anybody know that."
It was at Penn State that Arrington cemented a reputation for letting everyone know his strengths whether by action, reaction or simple words. Those deeds became the basis for legend in Happy Valley. They ranged from "the LaVar Leap" (a fourth-down, timed-snap, soaring tackle against Illinois) to his patting of the 72-year-old coach, Joe Paterno, on the rear end in a team meeting.
Arrington's tutelage under Paterno ended after his junior year. It appears to have ended amicably, but there were times when friction was clear. Arrington told Sports Illustrated before the 1999 season that coaches had to "let loose" with Lions defenders. "Don't kill our games," he said. Paterno, meanwhile, bluntly called Arrington "not even our best player. He might not even be our best linebacker… . People want me to say he's the best linebacker I've ever coached. Put him in the same class as Shane Conlon and Jack Ham? You've got to be kidding."
Such friction is the Hyde half of the Arrington equation the part that has kept pit bulls as pets; the part that could reverse the fortunes of a Redskins defense that ranked 30th in the NFL last season.
Michael Sr. knows the other personality much better.
"He still has that love for the game that keeps him excited," said Michael Sr., who spent 1 and 1/2 years rehabilitating his war injury at Walter Reed Hospital. "He wants to do the grunt work. He's going to be in that weight room, in that playbook, so when he hits the field he'll be in position to make an impact."

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