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Saturday's Husky Legend: Larry Tripplett
Release: 10/15/2010
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Oct. 15, 2010

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by Matt Winter

As the saying goes, "Offense wins games, defense wins championships."

More often than not the sign of a truly dominant defense is the presence of a stud at defensive tackle. As the first line of defense, the objective of the d-lineman is to protect and disrupt. Much like Steve Emtman held the position down for the Dawgs in early 1990's, Larry Tripplett anchored the defense that dominated 10 years later.

Tripplett came to Washington in the fall of 1997 out of Westchester High School in Los Angeles where he earned All-City and All-Area recognition after recording 13 sacks during his senior year. He chose Washington because, like most players in the 90's, it was simply the place to go if you wanted to compete on a national level on the West coast.

Arriving in 1997, Tripplett saw the tail end of Jim Lambright's six years as head coach as Rick Neuheisel took over the job in 1999. According to Tripplett, choosing Washington was the best choice he ever made. He attributes a great deal of his success to the coaching he got in those first two seasons under Lambright.

"I always tell people that my first two years with Coach Lambright and [defensive line] Coach Randy Hart...those were two of the toughest years of my life," says the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Tripplett. "The hard work and the discipline they instilled in me, there was nothing physically or athletically that I couldn't do. Nothing in the NFL was as tough as what I went through my first two years of college."

Tripplett redshirted the 1997 season, but he didn't need to be playing in games to improve. The 1997 Huskies were a team that saw 10 players drafted, two of which were interior offensive lineman.

"I tell you what, not only were the practices hard from the coaches, but I was going against Olin Kreutz every day. I'll never forget some of the battles we had in practice." Kreutz, a first team All-American center at UW, has made six Pro Bowls and twice been selected All-Pro as a member of the Chicago Bears.

After sitting out games in 1997, Tripplett was part of a loaded defensive line rotation in 1998, helping the Huskies to a 6-6 record and an appearance in the Holiday Bowl in Lambright's final year.

The next year saw the beginning of the Neuheisel era at Washington and the beginning of the Larry Tripplett era on the defensive line. From 1999-2001, Tripplett started all 36 games and led the Dawgs to a 26-10 record and three bowl appearances (two Holiday, one Rose).

After earning Second Team All-Pac-10 honors in '99, it was the next year that would truly immortalize Tripplett in Husky history. The 2000 Huskies were special for multiple reasons, the most obvious being that it was Washington's first Rose Bowl in eight years.

"It was a magical season that year," says Tripplett looking back, "I remember just feeling invincible at home."

That invincibility was put to its first test in week two when the fourth-ranked Miami Hurricanes came to town. Washington hadn't played Miami since 1994's "Whammy in Miami," in which the Huskies snapped the Canes' record 58-game home winning streak. The Huskies watched film from that game all week leading up to the game.

"That game, more than any other game, we were playing not only for us, but for all the old players and everyone that was a Husky," Tripplett remembers fondly. "We were like, `this is not just another game' we were playing for every Husky. We couldn't let our school down that game."

They certainly didn't disappoint. After jumping out to a 27-9 lead in the third quarter, UW held on for a 34-29 win. Looking back now, a stat that jumps out about that game is the number of first round picks on the rosters. In the 2001- 2004 NFL Drafts, 19 Miami players were selected in the first round compared to Washington's one.

"It's not always about the athletes you have, it's about your heart," says Tripplett, who had two sacks and blocked a field goal in the game. "We weren't playing to go to the NFL, we were playing for our school. I have never felt closer to my teammates."

The next week, Washington traveled to Colorado (Neuheisel's former team) and won 17-14. Tripplett's dominance continued as he earned the Pac 10 and National Defensive Player of the Week award after recording eight tackles, three sacks, and a fumble recovery in the last minute to seal the win.

As special as the 2000 season was for Tripplett and the Huskies, it cannot be discussed without mentioning tragedy. In week eight's 31-28 win at Stanford, Husky safety Curtis Williams suffered a hit that paralyzed him from the neck down.

"That was probably one of the hardest things I've had to deal with because I knew Curtis and how hard he played and the passion he had...when he didn't get up I went through a whole spectrum of emotions."

All of a sudden, standing on the field in Palo Alto, at 7-1, ranked No. 9 in the nation, and with three and a half games remaining, the 2000 Huskies' season completely changed.

"After that, we all felt like a team of destiny," explains Tripplett, who was named team captain that season as a junior. "There was nothing that was going to keep us from getting to the Rose Bowl."

And nothing did. The Huskies won out and defeated Drew Brees-led Purdue 34-24 in Pasadena.

Other than Washington's national title teams in 1960 and 1991, no other Husky team has accomplished what the 2000 squad did in terms of record (11-1), final ranking (No. 3), and bowl accomplishment (Rose Bowl victory).

"We were a family," Tripplett explains. "I'm not going to say we were the best defense ever, but we were going to play for each other. We were going to hit you in the mouth. We were never going to quit, no matter the score or the time on the clock."

Tripplett stayed for his senior year in 2001 helping the Dawgs to an 8-4 record and a Holiday Bowl appearance. His play earned him a second-straight First Team All-Pac-10 selection and he got the attention of Tony Dungy and the Indianapolis Colts, who made him a second-round pick in the 2002 draft. He spent six years in the NFL with the Colts and Bills, starting 62 games and compiling 8.5 sacks.

Tripplett is retired from football and lives in Indianapolis with his wife Natasha, whom he met at UW. They have two daughters, Acacia (6) and Sinaya (18 months), as well as a son, Canaan (4). He still views his time at UW as more influential than any other experience in his life.

"My time at UW truly shaped me to who I am today," he reflects. "There's a level of physical and mental toughness that was built at UW. I got to experience a lot of things here--losing a couple teammates, going through 9/11. I came to UW a boy and left a man."

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