Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Mike Vrabel: The Ultimate Patriot

OSU graduate embodies spirit of perennial power

October 5, 2007

By Bill Rabinowitz

Based on NFL actuarial tables, the end should be near for Mike Vrabel.

Yet at 32, Vrabel shows no signs of slowing down. The Bengals learned that Monday. The Browns will take their dose Sunday.

Vrabel, who graduated from Ohio State and lives in Lewis Center during the offseason, contributed in all three phases of the New England Patriots' win over Cincinnati. On defense, the linebacker pressured Carson Palmer into a third-down incompletion. On offense, he lined up as a tight end and caught a 1-yard touchdown pass, the ninth time in his career he has had a scoring reception. When David Thomas got hurt, Vrabel took his spot on special teams.

Just another night's work for a player described as the ultimate Patriot: smart, versatile and tough.

"I think the Patriots are looked at in high regard around the league," Vrabel said. "To represent that is certainly an honor. You have to continue to work and continue to produce, as does everybody on the team. But it's certainly an honor to say that that guy embodies what the Patriots are trying to do."

Vrabel's NFL career looked like it might be numbered seven years ago. Pittsburgh let the former third-round draft pick go after four undistinguished seasons in which Vrabel never started.

But under coach Bill Belichick in New England, he emerged as a crucial cog in helping the Patriots win three Super Bowls.

"I got some really good coaching in New England," Vrabel said. "Not to say I didn't in Pittsburgh, but I just think Bill saw something he wanted to try to get out of me, and eventually he did."

Vrabel wants to ride the wave as long as he can.

"I want to play as long as I feel I'm still able to make plays and contribute and not just hang on," he said.

Vrabel's success has been largely attributed to his instincts and intelligence, but football is not chess.

“You still have to win one-on-one in this league, no matter how much you know or how smart you think you are," Vrabel said. "You have to go out and physically win against someone else. I think those skills are still there."

Vrabel, who is married and has two sons, is unsure what he will do when he retires. He was pre-med at Ohio State, but his long NFL career has caused him to give up any ambitions of becoming a doctor.

He works out in the offseason at Ohio State and would like to remain involved in that program.

Along with fellow Buckeyes Luke Fickell and Ryan Miller, Vrabel has started the 2nd&7 Foundation, which provides books to second-graders in the Columbus school system.

"I love the time we spend in Columbus in the offseason and try to be a part of that community and try to do the stuff with the foundation and see the kids at Ohio State," he said.

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