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Oklahoma Has Solid Foundation On Offensive Line

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Gabe Ikard (#64) at OU fall practice. (Photo courtesy of SoonerSports.com) Gabe Ikard (#64) at OU fall practice. (Photo courtesy of SoonerSports.com)
NORMAN, Oklahoma -

When Oklahoma Sooners center Ben Habern announced he was stepping away from football due to lingering injuries, there was a momentary dash of panic amongst Sooner fans.

Then, reality set in, as OU fans remembered who would step in to fill the void left by Habern.

Junior Gabe Ikard came to OU in 2010 as a tight end, but quickly switched to offensive line. Over the past two years, Ikard has played both guard positions, and filled in at center when Habern was hurt last season and in spring practice.

"I came here and my attitude was I'll do what helps the team win," Ikard said. "Whatever they ask me to do, I'm going to do. That's how I feel like it is around here. Coaches are going to put you in good positions. Wherever they stick me, I'm going to do it."

Ikard's flexibility is a big reason why OU coaches weren't tremendously concerned when Habren called it quits.

"Gabe is the best," head coach Bob Stoops said. "Believe me, if we needed a tackle, he'd play tackle. He's talented enough to do that, (a) converted tight end."

Ikard and Habern are close friends, so Ikard knew things weren't going well for Habern based on conversations they had throughout the summer.

"I knew he was hurting a lot and knew he was in some discomfort all the time," Ikard said. "A couple times during workouts I could just see it in his eyes. He just didn't have it. He was in pain."

With Habern out of the picture, the center's position is Ikard's without question. Ikard said he's actually relieved there is no more uncertainty.

"It's actually more comforting now knowing I'm the center," Ikard admitted. "Now, I'm just working hard to get this line together and develop some more accountability and get this thing rolling."

Offensive coordinator Josh Heupal said he is pleased Ikard has the experience of playing center in game action, and knows it will help the offensive line going forward this season.

"He performed really well," Heupal said. "Gabe likes playing center. He understands our identifications, what we're doing in pass protection. Guys like playing with him. He's going to play at an extremely high level up there on the inside."

Ikard also acknowledged his experience gave him a comfort, as well as confidence going into this season.

"I started seven games at center last year, I played sporadically in the other games at center, I played in some big drives at center," Ikard said. "So it's one of those things where I'm comfortable. It's not a big deal to me."

Coaches obviously love Ikard for being a talented player, but they also like him for doing what he's told, and doing it to the best of his ability. It's a mindset Ikard has gone by for a very long time.

"I pride myself on being a coachable player," Ikard said. "They can tell me something once and that's it, that's all they have to tell me. Frankly it's do what is best for the team, no matter where that is."

With Habern, and now guard Tyler Evans, out for the season, the Sooners will need players to step up along the offensive line this season. However, they already have a solid rock in the middle to build around in Ikard, and that's always a recipe for success.

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