"You really want to know why?" Quintin Demps asks me when I ask him how he overcomes the longest and greatest football season of his life, an NFL campaign that now takes into account four preseason games, 16 regular season battles and a third playoff war to be fought.
I really want to know why.
"I'm getting paid," he says, and we laugh. "I have a job to do and we're winning. This is my profession. That is something you learn right away up here."
No question about it, rookies in the NFL are taught the life very quickly. You make it or you don't. You hit that rookie wall and you climb over it, especially if you are a first-year player on a team playing in the NFC Championship Game. There is no time to be tired. There is no time to consider the aches and pains and the reality that your body is hurting.
This is the big leagues, and this is for everything.
"You convince yourself that you feel great and then you go out and play," said wide receiver DeSean Jackson. "That's how you do it."
The Eagles have gotten major mileage from their 2008 draft class, starting with Jackson, the team's leading receiver and punt return man during the regular season who has been a vital part of the play-making duties in wins over Minnesota and New York. Defensive tackle Trevor Laws has been a big part of things at defensive tackle, rotating with Mike Patterson and Broderick Bunkley in the base formations and playing a part on the special teams as a blocker, and Demps is an ace on teams in coverage and as a kickoff return man, as well as gaining some repetitions in the secondary at safety.
This is all good news. All three players flashed in the summer and have built upon that promise by contributing throughout the season. The Eagles have come to rely on all three rookies and, in fact, need all three players to come through this year. They have added depth and talent and youth and energy and have certainly, collectively and individually, made a difference.
But it is a long season, and along the way the players learned a lot about how to take care of themselves at this level. Proper rest is essential. Hydration beyond anything they imagined is part of the success. Watching and learning from veterans and knowing how to study film makes up a big portion of the equation. And for the most part, and not the least part, they have come to know that proper nutrition is a plus and is part of the package.
"I am not quite there on the nutrition part. I haven't started that yet," said Demps. "I'm still a rookie, through all of this. I haven't done anything close to what I want to do in this league. I have aches and bruises, and I know that you never play a season without some of that, unless you aren't playing. I feel good, though. The tempo is different, too, especially the last game (against the Giants). I don't know if it's because we play each other so much, but that tempo was off the chain."
Laws was often seen in the summer with bandages around his hands as he tried to ease the pain from some preseason injuries. Now Laws is good, healthy and a big help inside to spell the starters. Life can be especially cruel for a defensive tackle in the rugged NFC East, but Laws has come through in good shape.
With the high-intensity 60 minutes of the NFC Championship Game in Arizona next, Laws says he is adjusted. He knows he belongs in the NFL. He knows he is making plays, and that he expects to make many more of them.
"It's been tough, no doubt about it," said Laws. "There is a point midway through the season where you're like, 'This is a longer season than I'm used to,' but then you get a second wind. And now that we're winning and we're in the playoffs, you know that each game could be your last, so you get another wind.
"It's been a good season. There have been some ups and downs, and training camp was tough, and it is more games than you are used to playing. But your teammates help you and your coaches do, too, so that is how you get through it."
All three players have made significant strides since early in the season -- Jackson as a more polished receiver and consistent contributor who has belied his 175 pounds and been tough and fast and quick throughout; Demps as a big-play return man, a down-by-down force on special teams and a more called-upon helper at safety, and, in his role, Laws, who goes in and plays well at defensive tackle as the coaches gain more and more confidence in their depth up front defensively.
There was once upon a time the theory that the Eagles just didn't play rookies. Truth is, those contributions varied, and were completely reliant upon the rookies. Same here. All three have stood out as mature young men who were able to withstand the rigors of a massive transition to get up to speed in this new world.
No longer do the players have to attend classes. Their whole world revolves around their playbooks, their film study and their performance on a daily basis.
"You have to be ready every, single day," said Jackson. "You get to practice and you need to know what you are doing. You have to put in your own time and be dedicated to it."
They measure their progress, literally, day by day. From September until now, the players are largely on their own to take care of their bodies and their minds. Come game day, they are not seen as rookies. They are seen as players who are counted on to contribute.
"There are no off games, no off days." said Laws. "It' all about football. You have to be on top of your game to be successful. You get to this level and you see guys are selling out on every play, especially in the playoffs. Everybody plays hard in every game, but the playoffs are different. We all know that if you lose, the season is over. So it's different. It's great, very intense, but different."
It is a job, a pay check. A rookie season is unlike any other for an NFL player, and the Eagles Draft Class, 2008, is making this one to remember.