More Recent Stories
Boomer Bio: Aaron Ripkowski
On Sale at newsstands Jan. 27!
Sooner fullback makes surprise impact in 2011
Patriotism runs especially deep in the Ripkowski household down in Dayton, Texas. For years, Aaron Ripkowski has heard stories about the 12 Ripkowski brothers, each of whom served in the military over a 10-year period that included World War II and the Korean War.
The brothers’ service has long been a great source of pride and inspiration for the family. Nine of the 12 served simultaneously during World War II, and all nine lived to tell about it. Their stories were the main motivation behind Aaron Ripkowski’s decision to attend the U.S. Naval Academy after high school.
Fortunately for Oklahoma fans — no disrespect to the Navy intended — that decision never came to fruition. Instead, young Ripkowski joined the OU football program as a walk-on this season and became a surprise contributor as a true freshman.
“Aaron has been a great addition to our offense,” said co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. “He’s physcial, plays smart and understands what he’s doing and where he needs to be.”
Ripkowski did not play a single snap during the first seven games of the season. But as the OU offense continued to struggle in short-yard, red-zone situations, Heupel and company installed what they called a “heavy package” that featured backup quarterback Blake Bell in the shotgun and Ripkowski as one of his blocking backs.
The Sooners successfully unveiled the play in a 58-17 win over Kansas State on Oct. 29, as Bell scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter. Over the next four games, the “Belldozer,” as it became known, proved to be a mainstay in OU’s offensive attack.
“That first play was incredible because I wasn’t really expecting to play, and they called me in there,” said Ripkowski, looking back at his debut as a Sooner. “What made it even more special was the fact that it worked so perfectly. Everyone got their blocks, I kicked out my guy, and Blake walked in untouched for the score.”
Ripkowski immediately became a fan favorite and earned semi-celebrity status as newspapers in Oklahoma and back in his home state of Texas shared his story.
So how exactly did the 6-foot-2, 255-pounder end up with the Sooners instead of at the Naval Academy?
“Growing up, I always enjoyed watching the Sooners play, and it’s been a dream of mine to play here,” said Ripkowski. “It was a tough decision, but ultimately, I felt like Oklahoma was the right place for me.”
With his entry applications completed and his report date set for last spring, Ripkowski contacted assistant Bruce Kittle and the OU staff about walking on in the fall. Kittle had already told Ripkowski the Sooners were looking for someone to potentially play fullback in short-yard situations, and they enthusiastically welcomed him to fall camp.
“My great-uncles and their service to our country was one of the main reasons I was considering Navy because I saw how they are respected, and I wanted to earn that same type of respect,” said Ripkowski, the reigning Texas state powerlifting champion.
“Ultimately, I decided not to go the military route because it required six years of service, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to make that type of commitment.
“The Naval Academy is a great school, but I felt like OU offered everything I was looking for in a college and for my future.”
Thus, Ripkowski ended up in Norman and eventually stepped out of the shadows to become a key contributor for one of the nation’s top football programs.
While injuries and some defensive breakdowns proved costly in three Sooners losses, the emergence of the “Belldozer” play has no doubt been a bright spot.
“Aaron is a physical, tough guy who really has given us a lot of help in our short-yardage offense by doing the things we’ve asked him to do,” said OU head coach Bob Stoops. “He’s been a really good surprise for us.”
A back injury will keep Ripkowski off the field when OU meets Iowa in the Insight Bowl on Dec. 30, but the former prep defensive standout is expected to make a full recovery and be ready when spring football rolls around in March.
“This season has been fun. Basically, my goal was to come in and work hard every day and see what happens,” he said. “I had no idea I would have a chance to contribute so fast. I’m still a little surprised by it all. And I’m definitely excited about the opportunity in front of me.”
(Editor's Note: This story appears in the 2011 Bowl Preview issue of Sooner Spectator. To read more or subscribe, call toll free 1-877-841-8877)