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CU football: Buffs getting unexpected lift from Rick Gamboa

  • Gamboa

    Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Gamboa

  • Colorado redshirt freshman linebacker Rick Gamboa closes in on Oregon's...

    Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado redshirt freshman linebacker Rick Gamboa closes in on Oregon's Kani Benoit earlier this season. Gamboa has recorded a team-leading 49 tackles.

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As recently as this past spring, linebacker Rick Gamboa wasn’t even an afterthought for the University of Colorado football program.

Quite frankly, Gamboa wasn’t on the radar of new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. If anything, the Buffaloes’ coaching staff would have been pleased to simply see Gamboa come off his redshirt season with a grasp of Leavitt’s new defensive schemes and perhaps contribute on special teams.

Yet in a testament to perseverance and taking advantage of unexpected opportunities, Gamboa has evolved rapidly from afterthought to the leading tackler on CU’s defense. Though reinforcements have arrived from the injured list, Gamboa’s production will be critical once again as the Buffs attempt to end their 14-game Pac-12 Conference losing streak Saturday night at Oregon State (8:30, Pac-12 Networks).

“He wasn’t going to be in the rotation. Last spring he was about third team,” Leavitt said. “Where do you start with that young man? Nothing fazes him. He’s very, very smart. He understands concepts, schemes. He’s getting better as he goes.

“He’s really something else. He’s done some good things in a year when we’ve lost some starters and other guys.”

The redshirt freshman from Sylmar, Calif., played a total of 39 snaps in a backup role during CU’s first two games of the season before injuries began piling up at inside linebacker.

When Addison Gillam went down with a knee injury — Gillam was ruled out for the remainder of the season this week after suffering a setback in his recovery — Gamboa stepped in to make his first career start against state rival Colorado State at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, finishing with 11 tackles.

Gamboa has started five consecutive games heading into this weekend, a streak that is expected to remain intact even with the return of Kenneth Olugbode from a leg injury that kept the junior on the sideline the past two games.

“I’m proud of myself being able to do what I have stepping into a starting role, but I’m not really big on statistics for myself,” Gamboa said. “The main statistic is getting the win. If we don’t get that, everything else doesn’t really matter.

“It wasn’t too tough stepping in because I still had Addison and (Ryan) Severson behind me throughout every single game. If I messed up, they would help me out with what I messed up on. They’ve helped me a lot. When I come to the sideline, they let me know things I should look for.”

Gamboa has recorded a team-leading 49 tackles and notched his first career sack in the season opener at Hawaii. With six games remaining there is plenty of work still to be done in 2015, yet Leavitt already believes Gamboa is a player the Buffs can build a solid defense around for years to come.

“He can play both sides, he tells everyone what to do and where to line up,” Leavitt said. “He’s been invaluable. We’ve shown some real positive things on defense. We just haven’t been as consistent as you need to win. What’s encouraging for me is I see a lot of real positive things where you can build a heck of a defense here.”

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07

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