They are the heart and soul of the 2012 Buffs.

Jon Major and Doug Rippy, Colorado's wounded linebacking warriors, have overcome plenty of adversity over the last four years. Now they're looking ahead to a fantastic finish in Boulder.

The inseparable friends have been working out, watching film, and even conducting post-practice interviews in tandem.

"What I like about the two of them is they are kind of sticking together this year," longtime CU linebackers coach Brian Cabral said. "They're working together, they're studying together, they're doing everything trying to encourage, challenge and help each other.

"That also brings out the best of my unit. It's kind of fun to see them be pretty tight and be twin brothers."

Major and Rippy are two of five members of the 2008 recruiting class still in the program, along with defensive tackle Will Pericak, safety Ray Polk (recruited as a running back) and linebacker Paul Vigo (transitioning from safety).

Major was a significant recruit for Dan Hawkins when the Ponderosa High School star spurned scholarship offers from around the country to lead a rebuilding effort at CU.

As a true freshman, Major was rapidly ascending Cabral's depth chart before suffering a torn ACL in fall camp. The recovery was slow and a sprained knee and shoulder limited him to only 110 plays in 2009.

By all accounts, Major was in the middle of an All-Big 12 season when he went down with a serious MCL sprain against Texas Tech in 2010.


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Major started all 13 games at the Sam (inside) linebacker position last season. He gritted through some painful nagging injuries down the stretch.

"That was my biggest goal to just finish a full season relatively healthy," Major said. "That was huge for me and proved that I can be durable, especially playing 13 games. My expectations are the same this year and I have all the confidence that's going to happen."

Major finished the 2011 campaign with 85 tackles (seven for loss, three sacks) and was named the Pac-12's defensive player of the week after a stellar performance in CU's 17-14 win at Utah.

"I'm looking forward to him having his best year," Cabral said. "He obviously got hurt early in his career. Last year, even though he finished the season, he was pretty banged up towards the end of the season. I'm kind of anxious to watch him play a whole year healthy and have fun playing."

CU head coach Jon Embree has not yet announced who his captains are for the 2012 season, but Major will certainly be on the short list of leading men.

"Jon has been my go-to guy since he's been here," Cabral said. "Jon is so smart. I can move him to any of the three linebacker positions at any time. That gives me a lot of flexibility when I have injuries or anything else. He's my MVP in terms of knowing everything."

Rippy, a Philadelphia native and standout high school player in Columbus, Ohio, was ignored by Penn State and Ohio State.

During the early part of his career, Rippy was best known for telling CU assistants about his cousin, Rodney Stewart, during the recruiting process.

Ankle and knee injuries have limited Rippy to 18 games (eight starts) during his college career. He started the first seven games at Mike (inside) linebacker last season and was the Buffs' leading tackler until tearing his ACL and MCL at Washington.

The coaching staff wisely held Major and Rippy out of last Saturday's scrimmage to keep them fresh and get a look at younger linebackers.

"I've just got to be smart with Rippy in terms of how we bring him back. He's ready to go full everything, but I just want to be smart and get him through the whole season," Cabral said. "You have two seniors who have been in the program, been around and are talented.

"Unfortunately, they've both had their ups and downs with injuries. For them to have their best year this year ... that's going to be good for us."

Derrick Webb and Brady Daigh will see a lot of action at linebacker this year. Cabral is excited about the development of Woodson Greer, Kyle Washington and the hard-hitting Vigo.

Obviously, Rippy and Major are the unquestioned leaders of the unit.

"We have to know what everyone else is doing. If we can get everybody lined up and running to the ball, we'll be fine," Rippy said. "Everybody makes mistakes and they're at the point now where they make a little mistake and the next day they're coming out and they don't make the same mistake."

With a number of freshmen expected to play on the CU defensive line and in the secondary, this defense needs its heart and soul on the field.

That's the way it should be given the program's tradition at linebacker.

"I think it is important that those guys are always the heartbeat of your defense," Embree said.