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Aaron Ripkowski Q&A
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Sooner fullback talks about his OU experience
Besides Blake Bell, no one on Oklahomaís football roster has fonder memories of the Belldozer package than Aaron Ripkowski. And while Bell was the centerpiece of what became OUís highly successful go-to short-yardage offensive set during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, it offered Ripkowski a chance to play and showcase his talents as a blocker.
It also opened the door to the future for Ripkowski, who has since established himself as a key piece of the Soonersí offensive attack, serving mostly as a blocking fullback the past two seasons. For the record, the 6-foot-1, 257-pound Dayton, Texas, product had caught three passes, including one for a touchdown, prior to OUís trip to Lubbock on Nov. 15.
That day against Texas Tech, Ripkowski carried the ball four times ó the first four of his career ó and caught two more passes, all of which totaled 23 yards. Of his six touches, four produced first downs and one was a 1-yard TD run.
It was the seniorís ďcoming outĒ performances, of sorts.
Sooner Spectator caught up with the former walk-on after a recent practice and asked him about his time at OU and life in and around football.
Sooner Spectator: What has proven to be the key for you as far as working your way into the lineup and staying there over the last few seasons?
Aaron Ripkowski: I think just making the right fits in practice and then doing the same thing on Saturdays. Work hard, study, keep learning ó there are a lot of things that go into it.
SS: When you arrived at OU as a walk-on, you had to know the odds were against you ever really seeing any significant playing time, right?
Ripkowski: I had no idea how it would go. Of course, my plan was to find a way to play, but I figured it was going to be every bit the harsh environment they say walk-ons face at most schools. I figured I would get looked down upon and those types of things, but I didnít find that here. Every player on this team is treated the same way with the same amount of respect as long as you are putting in the work. So itís been a great experience for me.
SS: Did you feel that you had to outwork everybody if you were going to have a chance to play here?
Ripkowski: Thatís always been my mentality. No matter what level I was playing or what I was doing, Iíve always felt that I needed to work hard and put everything I have into what I am doing to be successful.
SS: What was your path to Oklahoma? How did you end up here?
Ripkowski: I initially came here to attend a camp and really loved the campus and the whole environment. But the plan was to go wherever was going to give me the best scholarship offer. I got a full ride deal to the Naval Academy, but my parents advised me to turn that down and walk on at OU and try to earn a scholarship. So basically, thatís what I did. I followed their wishes, and itís worked out pretty well.
SS: What has been the key to you becoming a successful blocker at this level?
Ripkowski: For me, itís all about my footwork, hand placement and paths to make sure youíre on the right fits and identifying the right (players to block). Itís all about technique. Itís been a learning process for me, knowing where to go and who to block whether it's on the line or out in the flat ó the situation dictates what kind of technique you use.
SS: Didnít the Belldozer package really offer you the first chance to play?
Ripkowski: Yes, I got to work on the short-yardage package. It was great. Even though I was only getting a few plays a game, I loved every minute of it.
SS: What has been your favorite moment as a Sooner, to this point?
Ripkowski: Honestly, the next moment is my favorite moment. Itís all an amazing journey, so every opportunity I get to be in the game is great.
SS: What about your first touchdown catch against Iowa State or the performance you had at Texas Tech?
Ripkowski: Those were definitely special ó definitely great memories. But itís hard for me to narrow it down to one play or one game because I approach each play with the same focus. They are all important where the team is concerned.
SS: So even if you donít get another carry or make another catch the rest of the season, youíre fine with that as long as you are contributing in some way?
Ripkowski: Exactly. I take a lot of pride in the job I have and thatís basically just moving bodies, being a good blocker and working hard at being successful in my role with this team.
SS: How was your trip to Ireland and the opportunity to study abroad this past summer?
Ripkowski: It was amazing. My first time to travel overseas. And to see the culture of another country and how those people live and approach day-to-day life was great. I think it opened my eyes to a lot of things, like how they live maybe a more simple life than we do in a lot of ways, and maybe how we take some things for granted. It was an experience I definitely wonít forget.
SS: What did you study while you were there?
Ripkowski: We went for a sports culture class, which was really interesting ó just to see the nature of sports over there and how most of their athletes arenít paid to play and really just play for the love of sports.
SS: You are a communications major.
What are your plans for life after football?
Ripkowski: The main thing Iíd like to do is open a gym somewhere and help train kids and train young athletes. I havenít worked out all of the plans yet, but I feel I have a passion for that.
SS: What kind of things do you do to relax and unwind from football and classwork?
Ripkowski: I play some X-Box here and there, play with my dogs and hang out with my friends. I have a few things I watch on TV, like the show ďVikingsĒ and the History Channel a lot. My roommates donít play football so itís good to hang out with them and get away from it when I need to. But the truth is, I love the game and I donít want to get too far away from it. Iíll have time to do that when Iím done playing.
SS: Can you believe your time at OU is almost done?
Ripkowski: Itís gone by really fast, thatís for sure. Knowing that my last few games are here is reason for me to be that much more focused. Iím certainly not going to sit around and be depressed about it. I want to enjoy the time I have left and make the most out of every opportunity I have with my teammates and my coaches. We want to go out and finish the season strong.
(Editor's Note: This interview appears in the 2014 Basketball Prevew issue of Sooner Spectator. To subscribe, please call toll free 1-877-841-8877)