Now a junior with 24 starts under his belt, middle linebacker Rick Gamboa is a leader on a Colorado defense that lost eight starters. The Southern California native admits he feels pressure to get the new pieces up to speed.
“It is definitely a weird feeling for me now because the past two years I was one of the young guys playing on defense and now I am one of the old guys,” said Gamboa after a recent spring practice. “My leadership role is definitely kicking in because I realize I have to help the young guys and the new guys who don't understand as much, especially in pass coverage.
“It is kind of like you pay it forward like the older guys did when they helped me out. And we have these new players from Junior College that didn't come in to redshirt or sit on the bench, they are hungry and they want to play. There are a lot of opens spots so the competition this spring is pushing everyone to get better. The best will come out on top.”
What Gamboa lacks in speed and pure athleticism, he makes up for with his football IQ. Gamboa racked up a total of 157 tackles as a redshirt freshman and sophomore.
“Rick is definitely a mainstay for us,” Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre said on Wednesday. “He understands our defensive scheme completely. He makes a lot of plays. Rick is a big key leader and a key contributor on our defense, no doubt.”
Gamboa said he dissected his play from the last two seasons, going over every play he was involved with to see how he can improve.
“Instead of getting complacent, I wanted to learn from my mistakes in the past, ways I could fix my keys, my footwork, my eyes, where I am looking, or just being able to cheat better from what I am seeing from the offense,” he said. “I would definitely say this spring I felt like I needed to get to the ball a little faster and use my hands more.”
Redshirt freshman Akil Jones has been taking back-up reps behind Gamboa at Mike linebacker this spring, and a Jack linebacker is emerging next to Gamboa, he reports.
“Drew Lewis at Jack is real athletic, real fast. I am trying to help him with the mental part of the game because he can be real good,” Gamboa said. “Akil is coming along, too. He might not be the biggest guy on the field but he is also real athletic.”
Additional notes -
*** Gamboa said new defensive coordinator DJ Eliot has added “little wrinkles” but in essence the defense has stayed the same since his arrival in Boulder.
“And he is learning our terminology, which makes it so much easier,” Gamboa said of the transition to new coordinator. “He brings a lot of energy to practice just like Coach Leavitt did. They both have the mindset that they want us to be great and they are not going to settle for anything less, so I feel like they are both pretty similar.”
*** As is always the case in the spring, the Buffs' coaches have experimented with some players at different positions. When asked if any of those experiments have worked out well through five spring practices, MacIntyre mentioned Brett Tonz looks “pretty good” at offensive guard. Former scatback Donovan Lee has also looked natural on the defensive side of the ball.
“Donovan is still working at corner[back] and nickel back and has looked good there. And he is playing on all the special teams and doing a nice job,” MacIntyre said.
*** Redshirt freshman cornerbacks Trey Udoffia and Ronnie Blackmon have both earned praise from coaches and their teammates early on this spring. MacIntyre co-signed that when asked about both on Wednesday.
“Trey has made a big jump, he really has, we were talking about that as a staff,” he said. “He has gotten a little bit stronger and he is in better shape than when he first showed up, which is usually the case, especially when you are out there with the guys that can run as fast as our guys can. … [Blackmon] is competing. He is quick as lightning; just has to keep getting used to everything.”
*** The Buffs conducted a full contact “compete period” for roughly 20 minutes on Wednesday.
“We put the ball down and had the sticks and chains and had guys competing out there,” MacIntyre said. “Rotated a bunch of guys. I thought it went well.”