Runnin' with Ralphie

Steamboat's Taylor Leary selected to handle live buffalo

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Taylor Leary is done watching University of Colorado football games from the stands.

Starting this fall, the 2004 Steamboat Springs High School graduate will be on Folsom Field, taking part in one of the grandest pre-game traditions in all of sports.

Several weeks ago, Leary was selected to be a Ralphie Handler. He joins a team with 11 other CU students who are responsible for running the famed 1,000-pound buffalo through the stadium as the CU football team takes the field.

Leary can't believe he was selected.

"I'm so stoked," he said. "I ended up getting lucky. One of my good friends I met down there was one of the captains."

Initially, the interest in being a Ralphie Handler started out as a joke during dorm orientation last fall. Leary asked about it and became more intrigued as the year went on. He befriended other young men involved in the program and decided to try out for the team.

"They did a little demonstration with the handlers," Leary said. "They ran the buffalo around and let us touch her. We had to do timed 70-yard dashes. I'm considered a student-athlete, which is pretty amazing."

The perk for being a Ralphie Handler, in addition to free admission to football games, is the access Leary has to athletics training facilities. Just like other student-athletes, however, Leary must take a certain number of credits to retain eligibility and must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA.

"It's probably one of the coolest jobs in the world," Ben Frei said. "The first time you see it, it's hard to explain. Once you see it, holy cow, you get this chill."

Frei used to be a Ralphie Handler and now helps oversee the program. He said Leary was one of the handler hopefuls who did well in interviews, met the academic criteria and took the opportunity to interact with Ralphie during his tryout. The latter may not seem important, but Frei said otherwise.

"That's why we have her there," Frei said. "That first year, all the guys were super timid with her. She's just like a horse. When you show fear, they can feel it and feed off it. She knows what she's doing, but at times we need to be there to make sure she still does her job."

The current Ralphie is the fourth buffalo CU has used.Like the rest and despite her name, she is female. She was donated to the university by media and sports entrepreneur Ted Turner. Ralphie was born in 1997 on one of Turner's ranches in Montana. Ralphie IV is almost full-grown and can weigh as much as 1,300 pounds. During the season, however, she weighs several hundred pounds less and can reach speeds of 25 miles an hour, according to information at www.cubuffs.com.

Decked out in Western wear, Leary will be responsible for ensuring Ralphie safely leads the Buffalos football team onto the field before each half. Leary also will have to groom her in the morning and make appearances at the president's house and other popular student hangouts before the game, if time allows.

"I haven't really experienced game day, but from what I've seen, it's pretty intense," Leary said. "You are getting up early and getting everything ready. I'm so pumped about it. It's kind of a funny thing but a super cool thing."

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