Triplett still special on defense

Formerly a special teams star, the senior is thriving at linebacker.

Marco LaNave

Before his final season in a Gophers football uniform, senior linebacker Nate Triplett decided to make his final campaign in maroon and gold a memorable one. The Maple Plain, Minn., native knew that could only happen with a focused attitude. âÄúI think just kind of setting everything else aside, you know, this is my senior year, this is all âÄî pretty much all I have left,âÄù Triplett said. âÄúSaying, âÄòYou know what? Football is it for me.âÄô You know, this is all I have this semester. You know, âÄòLetâÄôs make it a memorable season âĦ letâÄôs really buckle down.âÄôâÄù For Triplett, that has meant watching more film to prepare for games, or staying longer after practice. Those little things have added up to big results in the GophersâÄô first two games. In just his second career start at Syracuse on Sept. 5, Triplett set a career-high with nine tackles and intercepted a pass in overtime that led to MinnesotaâÄôs 23-20 victory . Then, in the opening game at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Triplett was the clear star for the home squad. A career-high 17 tackles told only part of the story. He stopped Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson on third and goal in the second quarter and halted Falcons wide receiver Jonathan Warzeka on fourth and 1 at the Minnesota 9-yard line in the third quarter. He capped it all by returning JeffersonâÄôs fourth-quarter fumble 52 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the GophersâÄô 20-13 win . For his heroics, Triplett was named the Walter Camp Football Foundation Bowl Championship Subdivision National Defensive Player of the Week , and became the second consecutive Gophers linebacker to be named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week . âÄî senior Lee Campbell was the first. There is no question the Gophers have needed all the defense Campbell and Triplett have provided. While the offense has found the end zone just once since the first five minutes of the game at Syracuse, the defense has allowed just one touchdown in the last six quarters of play. After SaturdayâÄôs game, Gophers junior quarterback Adam Weber was quick to praise the âÄúhugeâÄù performance by Triplett and the rest of the Gophers defense. âÄú[Triplett] had a tremendous game, an unbelievable game, obviously came up with the big play: that fumble recovery,âÄù Weber said. Although he is gaining recognition now, Triplett has already quietly earned the Bobby Bell award for being the GophersâÄô top special teams player each of the last two seasons . âÄúHeâÄôs been the best special teams player in the Big Ten, I think, the past two years,âÄù Gophers head coach Tim Brewster said. âÄúAnd what heâÄôs done is heâÄôs carried that over to linebacker, and right now heâÄôs playing at an extremely high level.âÄù Only Triplett seems to think the reasons for his success are not that special. On Saturday, for example, he was just following instructions. âÄúI just went out there and did what I was coached to do all week,âÄù Triplett said after SaturdayâÄôs win. âÄúIf that turns out to be 17 tackles, then great.âÄù To earn the starting job on this yearâÄôs team, Triplett competed with redshirt freshman Keanon Cooper , who Triplett praises for helping him succeed. âÄúHaving him to kind of go over plays with and, you know, talk to him about stuff, and just kind of elevate our own play through each other,âÄù Triplett said. âÄúThat kind of really helped us get going, I guess, as a linebacker crew.âÄù âÄúEveryoneâÄôs making tackles, everyoneâÄôs making plays. Our other linebackers all had over 10 tackles [Saturday]. So everyone else is in the right place, too, and we were all making plays.âÄù Perhaps most importantly, though, by putting Triplett in the middle of the defense, the Gophers seem to have found the right place for him.