No. 4 Oklahoma rides a FB named Ripkowski

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NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — The names folks see on the stat sheet are Samaje Perine, Keith Ford and Alex Ross, the three-headed tailback monster for No. 4 Oklahoma.

But the guy that trio credits for much of the success of the Sooners' rushing attack? Senior Aaron Ripkowski, who's officially listed as a fullback but also has worked as a tight end and a blocking back. A former walk-on, "Rip" isn't often in the limelight, but his penchant for bowling over defenders has helped make him a bit of a legend among his teammates.

"He can be quiet, but I think that's just his personality," said quarterback-turned-tight end Blake Bell. "He's just real quiet and soft-spoken at times. When you get on the field, he can just be loud and turns into a creature.

"When you're a defensive guy and you have a guy that just keeps coming and wearing you out and wearing you out every play, like I've seen him do . that gets kind of annoying. You almost take a step back or dodge the block. That's what Rip does a good job of. He's just coming and coming and if they take a step left, that's when the hole gets bigger."

Now 6-foot-1 and 257 pounds, Ripkowski had few suitors coming out of small-town Dayton, Texas. He could have gone to Navy and he also received a few scholarship offers from non-NCAA Division I schools. But he instead chose to try his chances as a walk-on for the Sooners.

He saw mostly special-teams action in nine games as a freshman in 2011. The following season, he played in 12 games, making his first career start against Texas, and was voted as the team's most inspirational walk-on. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops put Ripkowski on scholarship after that.

Last year, he was thrust into a prominent role when the Sooners' standout fullback, Trey Millard, went down with a season-ending injury. He made seven starts and caught his first touchdown pass, a 3-yarder in a win over Iowa State. He caught a 5-yard pass against Tulsa this season, only the second time he's touched the football as a Sooner.

"I look at it this way," Ripkowski said. "Whatever they say my niche is, whatever my job is, that's what I do, 100 percent. It's not about getting glory or not about wanting this or wanting that. It's what's best for the team.

"Obviously, everybody wants the ball here or there, but to me it doesn't matter. Whatever helps the team, that's what I'm here for."

Ripkowski's teammates and coaches routine praise his physicality, so much so that Ross joked that Ripkowski would be a perfect fit for the History Channel television show "Vikings." Bell added that if Ripkowski "could grow his hair out long, he's got the big beard. He'd be perfect for that show."

Ripkowski isn't quite sure what to make of that.

"I think that's an absurd statement," Ripkowski said, "but I like it.

"I've been told I bring some physicality to the team and I guess some leverage with my blocking helps," he said. "You know, I'm kind of like a short offensive lineman, so that helps me get under other guys, defensive ends and stuff that other people couldn't get underneath."

Ripkowski has blocked well enough to help the Sooners, who will play at No. 25 TCU on Saturday, to rank second in the Big 12 in rushing offense (222.8 yards per game) and scoring offense (44.8 points per game). He's also been a huge asset in working with the Sooners' younger players, co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said.

"The big thing about our older players is they play fast, they play aggressively and they play with confidence," Norvell said. ". That's one thing Rip does. Rip is going to try to take a guy out every time he's on the field. He plays with such authority and that's the thing we're trying to get the young players to do."

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