Doug Rippy has finally arrived as Colorado's starting middle linebacker.
The 6-3, 230-pound junior led the Buffs in tackles against Hawaii and Cal. During CU's 28-14 win over Colorado State at Sports Authority Field, Rippy shared a key sack with Tony Poremba on the Rams' final possession.
However, there is still a lot of ground to cover before Rippy reaches his true potential.
Brian Cabral has coached dozens of great linebackers through the decades. The legendary CU assistant believes Rippy has some serious climbing to do to get anywhere near the top of a list that includes Alfred Williams, Greg Biekert, Chad Brown, Matt Russell, and so on.
"He's got a ways to go, he's got a lot to prove," Cabral said. "We've always known he's got the ability. It's just a matter of producing and pushing through the hard things on the field."
Cabral concedes that Rippy has already "come a long way" since arriving on campus in 2008 and redshirting that fall. During the 2009 season, Rippy saw action on defense in five games (67 plays) and in 2010 he only saw action in six games (27 plays).
It wasn't until this offseason when Rippy's mental approach to the game started to rival his physical gifts.
"It took a lot of maturing for me to realize I had all these tools and really needed to put them to work," Rippy said during fall camp. "I talked to Alfred Williams and he told me, 'You listen to coach Cabral, and he'll get you there.'
"At first, I didn't know why coach Cabral was always yelling at me. But when he stops talking to you, that's when I get nervous. He's always on me because he knows the type of player I can be. That's what he wants out of all of us is to be the best player we can be."
Rippy has started all three of CU's games this season and been on the field for 165 plays. His 26 tackles are second on the team behind Parker Orms (28) and his two sacks trail only Chidera Uzo-Diribe (21/2).
"Doug has played very well. He's kind of the emotional leader of that defense," CU head coach Jon Embree said. "He has done a very good job of tackling and he has gotten better each week on that. He has done a good job getting guys lined up and getting the calls in. He has a lot of responsibilities on him and he has handled them all very well."
Rippy, a former standout at Linden-McKinley High School in Columbus, will play in front of at least 50 friends and family members who requested tickets for CU's game against Ohio State on Saturday.
Cabral, who coached in his home state of Hawaii in the opener, said he planned to talk to Rippy during the week about blocking out the distractions and having fun between the lines.
"It means a lot," Rippy said of returning to Columbus to play at the Big Horseshoe. "Just for the simple fact that I was not heavily recruited by Ohio State, and now that I'm here I have the opportunity to play them. To go back home is really good, but at the same time I have a job to do."
Rippy originally committed to Nebraska but decided to switch allegiances to the Buffs after a coaching change in Lincoln. He also told the previous CU staff to take a look at another Columbus prospect named Rodney Stewart, who has emerged as one of the most productive running backs in program history.
"It's a real big deal," Stewart said. "The stadium is only 10 minutes away from my house."
CU's defense will be working against a true freshman quarterback. Ohio State interim head coach Luke Fickell announced Thursday that Braxton Miller will be replacing Joe Bauserman under center.
Bauserman started the Buckeye's first three games, but the senior was 2-for-14 passing during last Saturday's 24-6 loss at Miami.
Ohio State (2-1) -- still reeling from the departure of head coach Jim Tressel and star quarterback Terrelle Pryor before the season in the wake of an NCAA investigation -- has fallen out of the Associated Press poll for the first time since 2004.
"We still have to go out there and do what we know we can do. We can't really worry about what's going on with them as far as the offseason stuff and the loss," Rippy said. "Obviously, it's going to be an advantage for them because they are playing at home. At the same time, we have to end this road losing streak that we have."
Most of the Buffs, including Rippy, have never experienced a true road win at CU. The losing streak stands at 18 and dates back to Oct. 27, 2007.
The talented Mr. Rippy will have to be one of the ringleaders in reversing the trend.
"I've tried to get him to take control of it. I don't believe you have to be a senior to be a leader, I don't believe you have to be the starting quarterback or the starting middle linebacker to be the leader," Embree said. "There are guys that are at other positions that can fill that role as far as leadership. ...
"Because of the nature of his position, and I believe how well he plays and how well he prepares and handles himself off the field, Doug is a guy that can be a leader for us."