- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2001

CARLISLE, Pa. This story starts several months ago, when LaVar Arrington came into the media room at Redskin Park to pick up a soda before heading home.
It was a desolate afternoon, the kind a football complex experiences in the summer between minicamps. The linebacker had finished his workout and was coming inside after cleaning some trash off the floor of his silver Ferrari.
He bummed a quarter. He was asked, casually, whether he was having fun this offseason. He paused with a look of stark sincerity.
"You have no idea, man," Arrington said. "You have no idea how much fun I'm having."

Flash forward to training camp at Dickinson College, where the Washington Redskins are preparing for the season after the season the first year of coach Marty Schottenheimer following the team's $100 million debacle that involved Arrington being drafted second overall.
Arrington, 23, is slumped on a couch at the Holland Union Building. He has finished the morning practice and his lifting session, but the heat index and his intensity have combined to leave him dehydrated and in need of IV fluids. A nap awaits.
He is asked to quantify last season, which began with him missing a week of quarterback school for the birth of his first child. He was demoted to second-string for that. Then he held out briefly from training camp, was in poor condition for the first preseason game and played, ultimately, spotty football by his standards.
"Looking back on it, it was hell," Arrington said. "But sometimes you've got to hit the bottom before you can start your way back up to the top."

When he gets there, it should be something to see. Despite last season's inconsistency, there were big plays the kind that showed why people refer to Arrington's talent as the kind that comes along once a decade.
Now that talent is on display, if not constantly then with great frequency. A summer of weight work has left him looking physically powerful. The sets of wind sprints that capped practices at Redskin Park inevitably ended with him winning. And his bold enthusiasm many call it arrogance once again is flaring up.
It's a fresh start, though Arrington might not want one if he were an ordinary player. As a rookie, he won the starting strongside job in Week 4. He finished with 73 tackles and seven sacks. And he served up the hit that handed Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman the final concussion of his career.
Now, playing in a scheme that backs him off the line of scrimmage and opens him up for more creativity and bigger plays, Arrington wants to reach the next level. After missing parts of last week with a strained shoulder, he has returned to most drills and is gearing up for a breakthrough season.
"I'm going to play ball," Arrington said. "I didn't come in physically prepared like I should have last year. I had a lot on my plate. There's no excuse for it, any way you see it. This year I'm ready to go."
A big reason is Schottenheimer's staff, which replaced a unit that tried to maximize Arrington's talent by constantly telling him how much better he could do things.
"Coach [recently] said something that was real different to me: 'Why do you always think you're wrong?' " Arrington said. "I sat there and thought about it. That's just the way I was coached. A year ago, I never did anything right. That was the bottom line. LaVar never did anything right… . This year it's so much positive reinforcement, so much encouragement."
Schottenheimer is upbeat as he teaches. The only time he rips into players without building them back up, he said, is when he sees a lack of effort.
"When possible, I conclude any critique with a positive compliment, leaving that the last thought in their mind," Schottenheimer said. "Now that's not something I do all the time, but that's something I'm conscious of all the time."
But positive reinforcement would mean less if Arrington didn't feel close to the staff. He has clashed with recent coaches, from last year's Redskins staff to Penn State legend Joe Paterno, who constantly worried whether Arrington was tarnishing the Nittany Lions' tradition of being Linebacker U.
Arrington said he speaks to Schottenheimer and defensive coordinator Kurt Schottenheimer in some personal way almost every day. And linebackers coach Greg Manusky has established himself in Arrington's mind as a guy who will go to war with you.
"I think [Manusky is] a godsend because he really looks out for me," Arrington said. "He looks out for us like he's one of the players. That's a change. Instead of being talked at, you're being talked to. You're treated as a person."
Arrington's NFL debut was supposed to go smoothly. Position coach Foge Fazio, now the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator, was supposed to guide him. Fazio is from Pittsburgh. Arrington is from Pittsburgh. There was supposed to be some kind of bond.
"I would never point the finger individually at anyone," Arrington said. "I just think maybe that was the plan to bring me into the NFL. Whatever it was, I don't know. But I don't think it was an individual thing. In my opinion it was collective. Maybe it was something to help me grow."
The staff's tough-love philosophy irked Arrington from the start, or at least from the week he spent in a Pittsburgh hospital while the woman who was then his fiancee gave birth to his son. After a few days, coaches made it clear, in the media and in one-on-one phone calls, that Arrington's top priority was to return to quarterback school.
Arrington then grew just as angry at the media, which harped on the missed time throughout the season.
"This becomes a game to me when you're talking about my family," Arrington said. "I love the game, but it's still a game. And for you guys to sit there and every time I made a mistake and, well, 'This happened because he missed that [time] for the birth of his son,' and stuff like that … I never wanted to interview with anybody after that."
The missed time might have been forgotten if Arrington hadn't held out, if he hadn't come into the preseason out of shape, if he had won a starting job sooner or if he had enjoyed a successful rookie year. But his frustrations began at that minicamp, and the staff made it absolutely clear that he was disappointing the club.
A year later, of course, it's easy to justify his priorities.
"In the grand scheme of things, I think he made the right decision," said linebacker Shawn Barber, one of Arrington's closest friends. "But if you add that to the late signing, you get a negative spin put on something that wasn't anything more than a man wanting to be there for the birth of his son."
Barber believes expectations for Arrington led to his negative image.
"If he didn't do everything perfect, everything the coaches wanted him to do, something negative came out," Barber said. "And because he chose to be a man and take responsibility for his first-born and be the father … Twenty years from now, when this kid wants to know why my dad didn't show up for my birth, and he says, 'Because I was in preseason … ' "
Barber started laughing.
"I mean, you know what I'm saying?" he said. "The kid's going to look at you like, 'Come on, Dad, what's up with that?' "
Arrington has another explanation for what he considers his demonization: opposites attract. Or at least opposites attract sportswriters. As Arrington sees it, he was always made out to be the opposite of Penn State teammate Courtney Brown, who was selected one spot ahead of him, and Redskins tackle Chris Samuels, who was taken a spot below. Courtney Brown is the quiet one who goes about his work; LaVar Arrington is the boisterous one who gets in your face. Chris Samuels did everything perfect as a rookie …
"And LaVar Arrington grows horns at night and goes outside and howls at the moon and is just the most horrible person in the world," Arrington said, growing serious. "People try to affect my relationship with my friends. Chris is my friend. Courtney is my friend. It's just so garbage to take angles like that."
Friendship with the media is another part of Arrington's makeover, not that you could tell he hated them last year. He still did interviews, never glared at a reporter, never cussed out a reporter, never made it personal. But this year he wants to cultivate those relationships.
Meanwhile, his friendship with Barber clearly is another part. The two want to prove themselves the league's top outside linebacking tandem, a goal that might not be out of reach but is a darn good stretch from where they finished 2000.
The goal evolved from time spent together, lifting sessions, similar ways of dressing, similar interests, similar hairdos and similar playing styles.
"The funny thing is, when we [would] watch ourselves on film, sometimes we couldn't tell which one was which," Arrington said. "It's kind of cool having somebody [like that]. He approaches it the same way; he's capable the same way. It's just pretty neat."
Mix it together and you've got Batman and Robin. The Twins. And who knows? Perhaps two great linebackers.
And combine their friendship with Arrington's fresh start, fresh attitude, enjoyment of the coaching staff, distance from the "hell" of his rookie season, impressive strength and sharp conditioning and you've got a lot of potential this season.
The term "monster year" has come up a few times. And it's a term Arrington welcomes as he lifts himself off the couch and heads for that nap.
"Just wait and see, man," he said. "Just wait and see. I'm ready to go."

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