- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2012

Josh LeRibeus likes to laugh. Every few seconds the convulsions shake his emerging beard, thriving since his girlfriend isn’t in town, that draws comparisons to John Belushi.

Long after the morning walk-through finished under the billowing white dome at Redskins Park, the rookie lineman chuckles from question to question.

“He’s always smiling, bringing joy into people’s life,” said Richard Crawford, LeRibeus‘ teammate at Southern Methodist University, fellow Redskins rookie and video game rival.

The laughs are good-natured and friendly and disarming if you don’t know what happens on the field. Something changes between the lines for LeRibeus, the third-round pick whose weight once ballooned to 380 pounds after he became a well-known customer at Dallas-area Tex-Mex joints.

“On the field, he was mean and he would take you out,” said Jim Ledford, LeRibeus‘ football coach at Berkner High School in Richardson, Texas, “and would love standing over and laughing at you after dominating you.”

A crackling cellphone can’t hide the coach’s laughter at the memory.

Unlike quarterback Robert Griffin III, that other rookie in Redskins’ training camp, LeRibeus hasn’t posed for a photo next to a sculpture of sandwich fixings shaped in his likeness, doesn’t wear Superman socks, enjoys no special media availability sessions, and boasts a modest 2,487 Twitter followers to Griffin’s quarter-million-plus.

But don’t discount LeRibeus‘ on-field role for a team that shuffled through linemen at a frenetic pace last season because of injury, ineffectiveness and suspension. After left guard Kory Lichtensteiger’s second surgery on his right knee since tearing his ACL and MCL last season, LeRibeus and Maurice Hurt, in his second season, have seen time with the first team.

Not one for LeRibeus‘ loquaciousness, coach Mike Shanahan described the rookie as doing a “good job” three times in three sentences.

“This feels like a whole different level,” said LeRibeus, happy to turn his attention to full-time football instead of wedging in academics. “The practices here are more intense than any of the games were in college.”

He is adjusting to the Redskins’ zone blocking scheme (SMU had just one zone play but pulled frequently), while improving footwork, hands and overall technique. All this feels more natural each practice.

“Once you get that technique down, it’s night and day,” LeRibeus said. “I remember the first time I went out there I was all over the place.”

And LeRibeus, standing 6 feet 3 inches, is down to 317 manageable pounds or, to Ledford, “svelte.”

At Berkner High, LeRibeus started from the day he arrived as a quiet 325-pound sophomore with explosiveness and ability to get leverage on defenders that belied his size. In the school’s triple-option offense, he was the bulldozer who shifted between guard and tackle and, when Berkner went to an unbalanced line, well, defenders were liable to be run into the secondary and hear the big man’s laughter.

Even then, LeRibeus squatted 600 pounds and benched 340, with uncanny intelligence and the well-earned reputation as a practical joker. Once, Ledford couldn’t figure why the locker room floor was always wet until, one day, he discovered LeRibeus hefting two 30-gallon trash cans half-filled with water to douse unsuspecting teammates.

“You think this guy’s a goof until you cross the line,” Ledford said. “He just destroyed people. He would kill people.”

Ledford and Buckner High’s staff warned LeRibeus about his eating habits. At SMU, LeRibeus, who had an offer to play for Stanford out of high school, was academically ineligible his junior year and gained 70 pounds. A healthier diet, namely fewer trips to Uncle Julio’s and similar Tex-Mex spots, helped lower the weight. After being drafted, he quipped dropping the pounds was equivalent to losing a “toddler” off his belly.

“In college,” LeRibeus said, “you get the day off and you pig out.”

LeRibeus didn’t consult a nutritionist but learned to cook for himself and, these days, avails himself of the ample spread at Redskins Park (his favorite is braised duck). Diet, he believes, is the biggest hurdle he’ll face.

And, once again, LeRibeus laughs.

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