Oklahoma’s starting center has decided to quit football because of lingering neck and back concerns.
Coach Bob Stoops announced Wednesday that Ben Habern was calling it a career after starting 30 games for the Sooners. Habern, who would have been a senior, had sat out spring practice after a career marred by injuries. He broke his left leg as a freshman in 2009 and missed part of last season with a broken right arm.
”Our coaching staff knows this was a difficult decision for Ben,” Stoops said. ”Ben has been a consummate leader for our team, both on and off the field.
”We appreciate the toughness that Ben has displayed, and we wish him the very best as he completes his education at OU.”
Gabe Ikard moved over from guard and filled in the middle for part of last season, and sophomore Adam Shead got starting experience at guard after Habern’s injury.
”It’s horrible,” Ikard said on stage at a Sooner Caravan fan event Friday night in Oklahoma City. ”Ben, he just has his best interests at heart. It’s one of those things where you lose your best lineman. It’s horrible for him. It’s horrible for the team. But he’s just taking care of his health, so he’s making the smart decision.
”I assume I’ll be at center during all of two-a-days.”
Stoops later confirmed Ikard’s suspicions that he’d be shifting to center again.
”I miss Ben. I’m not going to minimize that, but we have other guys on the line that are experienced. It’s the most experienced position we have on our team,” Stoops said. ”In that regard, it’ll be OK. … I feel bad for Ben more than anything because all kids want to play. I understand, weighing 300 pounds, your back and neck not feeling good is not good. It’s just tough.
”We understand, it’ll be OK and in the end, I feel we’re going to have a great year.”
Stoops said during a brief interview session that Habern’s decision wasn’t a surprise, even though Habern represented the team at Big 12 media days in Dallas just last week.
”We’ve been speculating on that all summer. We love Ben but again not a big surprise to us who have been around,” Stoops said.
Despite Habern’s injury, Ikard said the Sooners must run the football better than last season to better open up the passing game for senior quarterback Landry Jones.
”We just need to focus during two-a-days, have a great two-a-days, just get prepared, just be sharp going into the season and just make it a mentality where we’re going to run the ball,” Ikard said. ”As an offensive line, you take pride knowing that you’re going to run it and they can’t stop it. That’s what we need to do.”
Stoops also announced that receivers Trey Franks and Jaz Reynolds and defensive back Quentin Hayes had been reinstated for the start of practice Friday but remain suspended indefinitely from games.
”They’ll miss considerable games. We haven’t determined that yet exactly but it’ll be multiple – multiple, multiple,” Stoops stressed.
”So, we’ll see. In the end, that hasn’t changed.”
Suspended receiver Kameel Jackson was not reinstated, and Stoops said his status will be re-evaluated at the end of the summer academic session.
Franks, Reynolds and Jackson all started games for the Sooners last season. Hayes played in eight games on special teams.
In a week filled with tough news for Oklahoma, Stoops also confirmed that receiver Courtney Gardner and offensive lineman Will Latu, both junior college recruits, will not be joining Oklahoma this fall. Plus, reserve offensive lineman Dylan Dismuke suffered a career-ending injury.
However, Stoops pointed out there was some good news. He said receiver LaColton Bester, a late recruiting addition to a receiver position decimated by suspensions and Gardner’s absence, arrived on campus Wednesday and prized cornerback recruit Gary Simon is expected to arrive Thursday.
The team’s first practice is Friday evening. Oklahoma plays its season opener at UTEP on Sept. 1.
”We’ll be into football here soon enough,” Stoops said.