Throughout his career at Colorado, Rick Gamboa has been through the downs of 2015, the ups of 2016 and then the downs of 2017.

Now a senior, Gamboa wouldn't mind that trend continuing, because it would mean the Buffaloes will get back on the winning track in his final season in Boulder.

"Everybody knows what we want to do as a team," Gamboa said. "Everybody wants to be the best."

An inside linebacker from Sylmar, Calif., Gamboa will play a key role in the Buffs (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12 last year) being at their best.

The most experienced player on the team, Gamboa has started 37 consecutive games and, with 292 career tackles, is on the verge of becoming just the 16th player in program history with 300. Barring injury, he's likely to finish among the top 10 on the career list.

CU linebacker Rick Gamboa waits his turn during drills at practice on Saturday.
CU linebacker Rick Gamboa waits his turn during drills at practice on Saturday. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

Gamboa wound up playing a significant role earlier in his career than he expected. In the second game of his redshirt freshman year, in 2015, starter Addison Gillam suffered a knee injury and missed the rest of the year. Gamboa took over the starting role and led the team with 96 tackles that season.

"It surprised me how early I played and unfortunately it took an injury," he said. "At the same time, I was not surprised about what I'm capable of. I believe in myself and I know what I can do and my teammates know what I can do.

"I'm proud of what I've done. I'm proud of what I've done for the University of Colorado, but I know I still have a lot left I really want to do before I leave this school."


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To do that, Gamboa is putting more of an emphasis on being a leader. The 14th player in CU history to be named a captain twice, he's taking that role to heart.

"I'd like to become a better leader, any way I can," he said. "To me, that's my biggest goal, just to do anything the team needs me that's going to help us be successful. I can have all the stats in the world, but if I'm not a good leader and we're not winning games, none of the stats really matter to me."

For Gamboa, that might require him watching more of the game from the sidelines. As good as Gamboa has been, he played a career-high 847 snaps last year, and the Buffs would like to decrease that number.

True sophomore Nate Landman is Gamboa's top backup and has star potential. Having Landman on the field gives the Buffs another play-maker at linebacker, but also gives Gamboa some rest to keep him fresh.

"Whatever the team needs from me," Gamboa said. "I know Nate Landman is going to be very good for this school. Same with Akil Jones."

With Gamboa, Landman, Jones and senior Drew Lewis, the Buffs have four game-ready, talented inside linebackers. Redshirt freshmen Chase Newman and Jonathan Van Diest have flashed their potential, as well.

Gamboa hopes he and his fellow linebackers are only part of an improved defense this season.

"The energy and the passion guys bring on defense (is exciting)," he said. "Everybody has the same goal. We want to be the best defense in the conference and one of the best defenses in the country."

A better defense would lead to a better season overall, and help Gamboa finish his career in a bowl game.

"It's been some of the best four or five years of my life (at CU)," he said, "and I just want to end this chapter of my life the best way possible."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.