It's said that good things come to those who wait, and Green Bay Packers rookie fullback Aaron Ripkowski is a prime example.
In his first three years at Oklahoma, Ripkowski never once carried the ball, despite starting seven games as a junior. His role was to block for a bevy of talented Sooners tailbacks, including Samaje Perine last season.
As a senior, Ripkowski finally got to run with the ball in a Nov. 15 game against Texas Tech. He took full advantage of the opportunity, carrying four times for 11 yards and a touchdown. In the regular-season finale Dec. 6 against Oklahoma State, Ripkowski exploded for three touchdowns (two rushing on two carries, both from the 1-yard line, and one receiving) in a 38-35 overtime loss.
For his selfless efforts at fullback and on special teams , Ripkowski received the Don Key Award, given annually to a senior who displays excellence in the classroom and on the field.
Come NFL draft time, Ripkowski never expected his name to be called. But in the sixth round, the Packers -- who ranked at the bottom of the NFL in special-teams performance last season -- spent one of their three picks on the 22-year-old Houston native.
“He’s the guy we thought he would be," Packers special teams coordinator Ron Zook said of Ripkowski, who plays on all the coverage and return teams. "He’s a fullback-type guy. He runs well. He’s a hard worker. He’s tough. He’s a great guy to have.”
Ripkowski spoke with Press-Gazette Media about his unexpected arrival as an NFL contributor:
You’ve been busy on special teams. Enjoying that role?
Yeah, I love it. Any way I can get in there and help the team out and get some playing time is always a plus.
What does it take to be a good special-teams player?
Just technique and being able to take coaching. Finding the right spots and the right fits and learning how to improve your game.
Did you ever think you’d be an NFL player? Was that a goal of yours, going back to high school?
I’d say every kid’s dream once they start playing football is to play in the NFL. It’s everyone’s goal. It’s just that some of us are fortunate enough to have the ability to keep working and improving and make it and get a chance at the next level.
You were a linebacker originally, correct?
I was a linebacker in high school, made the switch to fullback my freshman year at Oklahoma. … They liked my intensity and footwork and pace.
You were strictly a blocking back your first three years at Oklahoma. Did you enjoy that role? It’s unsung, you don’t get any glory…
That’s not why I play. I like to run around and hit people and help the team out. It’s not about getting my name in the papers or having everybody else say my name.
What was it like against Oklahoma State your senior year when you scored three touchdowns (two running, one receiving)?
It was a lot of fun. Too bad we couldn’t pull out the “W” (a 38-35 overtime loss), but it was fun.
Did you expect to get drafted? You were all-Big 12 as a fullback.
I didn’t expect to get drafted. My agent was telling me this and that, he’s talking to a bunch of people who were saying I was draft-worthy. But you hear all these stories about agents telling you you’re going higher than you are and this and that. I just happened to get drafted and thank God it was Green Bay. I had no idea I was going to get drafted, being just a typical blocking fullback. But I’m glad I was.
What is it about Green Bay that makes it such a good fit for you?
I think it’s the fact they run a physical offense. … And everybody here wants to learn and get better. They’re not just “Oh, I’m here, I made it.” And I think they see that I’m that type of individual.
What’s it been like playing behind John Kuhn at fullback? Are you learning a lot from him?
It’s great. He’s a phenomenal resource and he’s got a lot knowledge, he’s been around the game a long time and he’s a great player and a better person. He’s awesome to hang around with and learn from.
Some people say fullback is a dying position. Do you agree with that?
I would disagree. You know, it phases in and out. As defenses get smaller to adapt to stopping the pass, offenses start building back up and taking advantage of the fact that defenses are smaller. So it’s a cycle, it goes back and forth.
What do you like to do away from the football field?
I mainly just go home and rest up. I have a terrible golf game, I just started playing, that’s a new hobby of mine. I play a little Xbox from time to time, watch a little TV, that’s about it.
Have you always had the long beard?
No, I’ve always had a short one, and sometimes I clean-shave it. This is the longest by far that it’s ever been. I call it my “I fear the winter” because I’ve never been in one.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Stucourt