Gam­boa a leader on Buffs’ de­fense

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Bryan How­ell Cliff Grass­mick, Daily Cam­era

It didn’t take Ross Els long to re­al­ize what ev­ery­one else on the Univer­sity of Colorado football staff al­ready knew about line­backer Rick Gam­boa.

“He’s a very in­tel­li­gent player,” said Els, in his first year coach­ing lineback­ers at CU. “You no­tice that with Rick, not only on the board, but be­ing able to see the big pic­ture. When you play line­backer and you start get­ting a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence, your vi­sion just in­creases. As you get older and more ex­pe­ri­enced, you start be­ing able to see ev­ery­thing.

“Rick’s at a whole other level than any­body else in our line­backer group.”

En­ter­ing his third year as a starter, Gam­boa is the only in­side line­backer on the team with much ex­pe­ri­ence, and the Buffs will lean on that this sea­son.

Thrown into the fire as a red­shirt fresh­man in 2015 af­ter Ad­di­son Gil­lam in­jured his knee, Gam­boa is now a ju­nior with a streak of 25 con­sec­u­tive starts and a de­ter­mi­na­tion to make sure the Buffs don’t lose their edge on de­fense.

Eight starters and 10 regular con­trib­u­tors are gone from last year’s de­fense, which ranked among the best in the coun­try, and Gam­boa has heard the nar­ra­tive that this group won’t be as good.

“We’ve been hearing it since the end of last sea­son,” he said. “It’s not like we have a lot of fresh­men and sopho­mores play­ing. We have a lot of ex­pe­ri­enced guys, a lot of guys who have been here. They prob­a­bly haven’t played as much football as they wanted to, but they’ve played football here, so it’s noth­ing to new to them.”

Gam­boa is one of the vet­er­ans try­ing to keep that stan­dard in­tact, and his big­gest strength — his in­tel­li­gence — could be huge for the Buffs this sea­son.

”Ev­ery­one wants to play, ev­ery­one wants to win and we set a stan­dard as a de­fense last year of what we want to be and we know where we have to be if we want to be a good de­fense,” he said.

Be­hind Gam­boa and ju­nior Drew Lewis are red­shirt fresh­man Akil Jones and true fresh­men Nate Land­man, Jonathan Van Di­est and Car­son Wells.

Gam­boa has 175 tack­les in his ca­reer.

“He’s a coach on the field,” Els said. “His lead­er­ship role in­creased in the spring, but he’s taken it to whole other level this sum­mer, this fall. Guys are com­ing to him and he’s go­ing to guys with things that need to be ad­dressed.”

Through the first few prac­tices of fall camp, Els has worked Jones and the true fresh­men at both in­side line­backer po­si­tions so that they are ready for either spot. Hav­ing Gam­boa there has helped those younger play­ers ad­just.

The 6-foot, 240-pound Gam­boa has never been known for great side­lineto-side­line speed, and he knows he’s not the big­gest guy in the room. But he has al­ways taken pride in know­ing the game.

“I’ve al­ways held it to my­self that I want to be the smartest guy on the field,” he said. “I’m al­ways go­ing to hold my­self to that. What­ever I have to do, I’m never go­ing to use my speed as an ex­cuse. I’m go­ing to get to the ball one way or an­other.”

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