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Aaron Ripkowski Q&A
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Former OU fullback talks about his future in the NFL
Fullbacks have been a part of the endangered species list ever since college football began a mass transition from traditional ground-based schemes to more up-tempo, high-flying aerial assaults. And while there is not an exact moment in time when this offensive metamorphosis began, the last 15 years have seen many programs eliminate the position all together.
Oklahoma has been one of the few exceptions to that ongoing trend, relying on players like J.D. Runnels, Dane Zaslaw, Matt Clapp and Trey Millard to not only perform blocking duties, but in the case of Runnels and Millard, use their versatility to run and catch the football.
Aaron Ripkowski was a walk-on fullback at Oklahoma prior to the 2011 season who went on to earn the respect of his teammates, a scholarship and eventually First Team All-Big 12 honors.
The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Texas native worked mostly in Millard’s shadow and specialized short-yardage situations his first two seasons with the Sooners, before taking over as the starting fullback in 2014. He finished his career with only six rushes and eight receptions — but scored five touchdowns and was the winner of OU’s Don Key Award, given annually to the player who best exemplifies high character and leadership on and off the field.
In late April, Ripkowski was taken by Green Bay in the sixth round of the NFL draft. He was impressive during the Packers’ rookie camp in May and has his sights set on a roster spot with the historic franchise.
Sooner Spectator caught up with Ripkowski recently and talked to him about his college days and initial impressions of the NFL.
Sooner Spectator: As a walk-on at OU, did you ever allow yourself to even dream about one day playing in the NFL?
Aaron Ripkowski: I thought about it at times, for sure. And as a kid, I dreamed about playing in the NFL, like most young football players do. But for me to be successful at the college level, my focus had to be on the task at hand. I pretty much had to take things one day at a time and not get too far ahead of myself and what my job was at Oklahoma. I’d say as my senior year started to get close to the end, I started to think about (the NFL) more and wonder what my chances might be to make it at the next level.
SS: Why were you able to go from walk-on status to becoming a key contributor and eventually a full-time starter at Oklahoma?
Ripkowski: I was able to work extremely hard and was fortunate enough to take advantage of every opportunity that was presented to me. I have to give credit to the coaching staff and the way they teach and prepare you. Also, the facilities at OU are incredible and allow you to develop and learn and grow into the football player I am today.
SS: It had to be a special moment to hear
your named called during the NFL draft. Having already attended rookie camp, has it sunk in yet that you have this amazing opportunity in front of you?
Ripkowski: Honestly, the past month has been a whirlwind. Everything is moving so fast that it’s been hard to really slow down and think a lot about all that is going on. They throw the rookies right into the fire and keep us busy, so my focus has been on what I need to do to succeed here. I’m not sure it really has fully sunk in. But looking back at the draft, yes, it was pretty special to have the Packers select me. I was pretty fired up, especially because it was Green Bay.
SS: Why did you feel Green Bay is the right place for you?
Ripkowski: I grew up a Green Bay fan from the time I was a kid. I initially became a fan from playing a video game called “Blitz” when I was little. My team was always the Packers and the more I actually learned about those Green Bay teams and their history, the more I grew to like the franchise. So as I got older, I’ve continued to follow Green Bay.
SS: What have your first impressions been
with the team and the town?
Ripkowski: The atmosphere here in Green Bay is phenomenal. The town is built around the Packers and the fans live and breathe Green Bay football up here. There is so much great history and tradition that comes with this franchise and you see it and feel it everywhere you go here. And the city itself has more of a small-town feel that is pretty cool. Just a very unique place overall.
SS: What do you feel will be the keys for you to make the Packers’ roster and contribute on the field?
Ripkowski: The first thing is learn the playbook inside and out. From everything I’ve heard, that is such a critical step to being successful at this level. So I have to get it down to a T. And then I’m looking at special teams options and working to get myself involved in every special teams unit I possibly can. Other than that, just work hard and prepare myself every day to give my absolute best.
SS: You have been compared to Green Bay fullback John Kuhn. What are your thoughts on that?
Ripkowski: Well, it is flattering to hear things like that. He has been a key player for the Packers for a while, so I have to feel it is a positive to be compared to him in some ways. And I feel we are similar in a lot of ways, although not exactly the same. I have a lot of work to do to reach the level he is at right now.
SS: Do you feel your experience at OU helped prepare you for the next level and life in general?
Ripkowski: My experience at OU was great in pretty much every way possible. The football program is top notch and the coaches and facilities are second to none — so those things help prepare me for the next level and all that it takes to succeed here. I think the fact that OU and Green Bay do everything at the highest level, it will help make my overall transition that much smoother.
SS: Do you talk to any of your former OU teammates and compare notes?
Ripkowski: Absolutely, we text each other here and there. We haven’t had any time to really get together and catch up, but we all keep up with each other and communicate when we can. It’s been fun to see some of the other guys get drafted or signed — and see them doing so well.
(Editor's Note: This Q&A appears in the Spring Sports Review issue of Sooner Spectator, available on newsstands June 15 ... to subscribe, call 1-405-364-4515)