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Orakpo's In the Big Time Now

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For college football players, December is all about bowl games, final exams and easing into the offseason.

For NFL players, December is the home stretch of a long and challenging season.

The difference between the two Decembers is just one of the many reasons that being an NFL rookie can be so difficult.

Unless, of course, you're Brian Orakpo.

Orakpo, the Redskins' top draft pick out of the University of Texas in 2009, transitioned to the NFL with surprising maturity for a young player, both on the field and in the weight room.

"You play so many games in the NFL compared to college, so you have to endure the long season and take care of your body," the 6-4, 260-pound linebacker/defensive end said. "That's something I've learned--never take a week off. You have to keep working week-in and week-out."

That mindset allowed Orakpo, 23, to excel as the 2009 season progressed. He had a four-sack game against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 13.

Orakpo finished his rookie campaign with 58 tackles (39 solo), 11 sacks, 20 quarterback hurries and one forced fumble.

He was voted to the Pro Bowl, becoming just the second Redskins rookie ever to be selected to the annual all-star game.

What were the keys to his durability?

"I didn't get lazy in the weight room," he said. "I made sure my strength, my core, and my conditioning was always good. I got in the ice tub, the pool, and I get in all the rehabilitation that I can. Any nagging injuries I took care of in my off-time."

Orakpo may have surpassed expectations in his rookie season, but he maintains he was well on his way to becoming an elite NFL player before he ever stepped into the Redskins weight room.

"In college, I did a lot of five reps and it was more heavy lifting," he said. "I actually did a lot more than I do now. In the pros, it's all about repetition and just maintaining strength and conditioning so your body can endure the long season."

While Orakpo focused on making sure his body could handle his first NFL season, he also credited his mental preparation for his succsss.

"My drive to win has really helped me," Orakpo said. "If you don't have that mindset, you can really go down."

Orakpo has no plans to slow down during the offseason, either.

"When the time is right, I'm going to be back in Austin [Texas] and get back to training," Orakpo said. "I plan to do some boxing during the summer to help my hands and also work on my footwork to become a better football player."

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