Listening to Taylor Naleppa talk about building houses, it's easy to think that he's describing his role on the Oakton football team.
"Different days I do different stuff," he said. "We have pretty much all the framework up now. I just mostly handle the stuff that needs to be done."
Whatever has needed doing for the No. 7 Cougars , Naleppa has done it and excelled. At fullback this season he has rushed for more than 800 yards and blocked for lead back Keith Payne (1,704 yards). He also played linebacker and was named to the AAA Northern Region first team as a utility player. In Saturday's Northern Region Division 6 championship game against Westfield, Naleppa rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown and helped spring Payne (244 yards, five touchdowns) to a career day in the Cougars' 42-24 win.
Oakton (10-2) will play Central Region champion L.C. Bird (10-2) in the state semifinals Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Chesterfield.
Despite his success on the field, it'd be tough for Naleppa to top the accolades he has received in construction. Since the summer after his sophomore year, Naleppa has participated in a Fairfax County class called Construction Tech, in which students from across the county build a house from scratch at a job site in McLean. The house built prior to the one currently under construction sold for $1 million in 2003. Naleppa's house, scheduled for completion in the next two months, is expected to fetch more than $2 million.
Naleppa works as a foreman and has even received a raise for his performance, which involves such tasks as constructing hardwood floors, framing and drywalling.
"He's one of my key guys out there," his teacher, Marcial Rubio, said. "He's been there since the beginning, he's out there every day and I count on him as much as anyone."
All the while, Naleppa has helped build Oakton's program. In 2003, Naleppa was one of eight sophomore contributors on the team, but the Cougars missed the playoffs, a season after making it to the state final. Last year, Oakton advanced to the regional final. This season, the Cougars fought past three other contenders in the Concorde District to win the region.
"Taylor has an inner drive to do well," said Coach Joe Thompson, who took over in 2003. "You're not going to outwork him. Our kids react to Taylor. If he's out there running through tackles, they feel good about what they can do, too."
Naleppa's size hasn't hurt, either. At 5 feet 10, 226 pounds he provides an imposing presence to complement Payne's 6-3, 225-pound frame.
"It's great running behind him," Payne said. "It gives me a lot of confidence. I know he's going to do his block and he's a big guy. People are going to be afraid of him when he comes through the hole. It makes my job a lot easier."
Even with the Cougars' success this season, there's still work to do: Oakton has never won a state championship. But it wouldn't be like Naleppa to leave anything incomplete.
"I like working with my hands," Naleppa said. "I love the satisfaction of finishing a job once you start it."