Leading the Charge
Nov. 16, 2001
by Bri Niemi
For most young kids growing up, New Year's Day means hours in front of the TV, watching every bowl game imaginable and dreaming of the day when they might be out on the gridiron catching the touchdown pass to win the game, or causing the quarterback to fumble on fourth down.
For Washington's six-foot-one, 300-pound defensive tackle Larry Tripplett, things were a little different.
'The big thing for me was the Rose Parade, the game was just secondary,' remembers Tripplett. 'What amazed me was how they could make those floats look like that out of flowers. That just blew my mind as a kid.'
Tripplett's childhood fascination with the parade became a reality when, following the 1999 Holiday Bowl in which the Huskies lost to Kansas State, 24-20, Tripplett made the three-hour trek from San Diego to Pasadena to see all the glitz and glamour firsthand.
'After the Holiday Bowl my family and I got to go watch the parade in person for the first time,' says Tripplett. 'It was pretty amazing to see how big those floats really were and how impressive the detail was. It still kind of blows my mind. C'mon, to build something out of flowers, now that is impressive.'
While most would agree with Tripplett's assessment of the New Year's Day tradition, it is rather amusing that one of the greatest defensive linemen to play as a Husky was more intrigued by floral patterns than crossing patterns.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Calif., football just didn't capture the interest of Tripplett, who found more enjoyment in other sports and activities.
'I didn't like football that much as a kid. I played it in the streets with my friends, but that was about it,' says Tripplett. 'I played baseball and basketball, basically everything but football.'
If it wasn't for Tripplett's mother, along with genetics that blessed him with size and talent, it is safe to say that this 2001 preseason All-American would not have graced the field in Husky Stadium over the past five years.
'To be honest with you, my mom really made me play. When I got to high school, I was a big guy, probably around 5-10 and 240 pounds. Everyone kept telling me that big guys played football so I started playing and fell in love with the excitement and the speed of the game.
'I began on the offensive line, but my sophomore year my coaches let me play both ways. I got my first taste of defense and I never looked back,' Tripplett says. 'I was always one of the biggest guys, but I was able to move with the smaller guys. When I got my first sack, at that moment I knew, I was a d-lineman for life. I really feel in my heart that I was born to play defensive tackle.'
Coming out of Westchester High School his senior year, Tripplett took recruiting trips to both Texas A&M and UNLV, but found that Seattle was best-suited for him.
'I pretty much knew that I was coming here to Washington,' says Tripplett. 'I wanted to be a part of a winner and there was great tradition here. At the time, I also wanted a change in climate. I wanted to experience the four seasons and a chance to see snow in the winter.'
Although his expectations, weather-wise, were not exactly met, Tripplett is more than content with his decision to become a part of the deeply embedded history that is Washington football. However, upon his arrival he found himself a step behind, having only competed in four years of organized play.
'Because I really didn't play football growing up, I needed to redshirt,' Tripplett says. 'I came here benching 245 since I didn't lift weights in high school. I really didn't know anything about the game, I pretty much learned everything during college. I just played because I was big and able to run.
'I came to Washington as an athlete, not as a football player,' Tripplett continues. 'So for me, redshirting was a must. Although it was painful because you want to be a part of the action and help your team win, it was what I needed to do.'
Following Tripplett's first year of action in 1998, he, along with every other member of the team, received a call that a new coaching staff was on the horizon.
'I'll never forget when we changed coaches and I got a phone call from the administration,' says Tripplett. 'The first thing I said was, 'I know coach Hart isn't leaving,' and they told me they didn't know if that was true or not. All I could say was, 'whatever you do, you've got to make sure coach Hart stays.''
'There have been times when I have regretted saying that,' Tripplett says with a laugh. 'If you are making mistakes on the field he gives these speeches that make you feel like you are letting down the whole program and everybody that is associated with the university. He has that way about him that pushes you to do better. He really makes you understand that for every snap of the ball, you are playing for the guys who played before you, the people who are watching the game, and the little kids who will one day be out on the field. In reality, he has been a great role model for me and a great coach to teach me the game. I give him a lot of credit for my career.'
It is a career that is filled with numerous accolades for his athletic accomplishments. Along with the increased attention, Tripplett finds himself getting double-, and sometimes even triple-teamed, as offenses try to take him out of the game.
'The double-teams were more frustrating last year because we were going through this magical year and everybody wanted to make something happen,' says Tripplett. 'This year, I take it more as I am trying to help my team. It doesn't matter what my stats are as long as we win. During the Arizona game earlier this year, I had zero tackles, but some games are just going to be like that.'
As his knowledge and experience increased through his two short seasons of play, his coaches and teammates began to see Tripplett's presence, both on and off the field. He was elected team captain as a junior in 2000 and earned the duties once again this year.
'The first year was actually a bit of a surprise,' Tripplett says. 'I say that because when I first came here, it was an understanding that you give a lot of respect to the seniors. Being a junior, I felt a little out of place, but I was ready to accept that role and be the best captain that I could. This year, I totally embrace the role. I like trying to help lead this team as best as I can.'
That has been the expectation all year, and will no doubt continue as the Huskies prepare for what lies ahead. Washington fans, coaches and players all hope for one thing - that Tripplett will have to tape the Rose Parade this season.