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Ikard takes over at center for Sooners

NORMAN, Okla. -- The look on Ben Habern's face told the story.

When Habern looked at teammate Gabe Ikard midway through Oklahoma's 38-28 win over Missouri last Saturday, Ikard knew his life was about to change. Habern, the Sooners' preseason All-Big 12 center, had just suffered a broken right forearm, which will force him to miss the next four to six weeks.

Ikard, OU's starting left guard, was forced to move to center.

"I can't say the words," Ikard said of what he thought to himself at that moment. "I knew he was out. It wasn't the most fun thing I've had to do, but I handled it all right."

Fortunately for the Sooners, Ikard had spent a good portion of OU's preseason camp and several spring practices at center. The redshirt sophomore held up well against Missouri despite never playing the position before stepping on campus.

"I had to revert back to two-a-days and focus up," Ikard said of the mid-game move. "It was definitely different."

Said offensive line coach James Patton: "He accepted the challenge."

Former OU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson recruited Ikard out of Oklahoma City Bishop McGuinness to be a blocking tight end similar to Brody Eldridge. Turns out, Ikard is more like Eldridge than anyone anticipated. His career is starting to mirror that of Eldridge, who played tight end, tackle and center during his OU career.

Early in Ikard's OU career, the coaching staff realized he could get on the field faster if he moved to the interior of the Sooners' offensive line.

That was easier said than done.

Ikard, who weighed about 250 pounds out of Bishop McGuinness, knew he had to put on weight to handle the demands of playing offensive line. Plenty of protein shakes and chicken helped him gain enough weight to reach a playing weight of 295 pounds.

"He's been very diligent about putting the right weight on," said Jim Ikard, Gabe's father. "He had to put a lot of weight on pretty fast."

Having gained the weight needed, Ikard earned a starting role at guard during his freshman season in 2010. Now, with Habern's injury, he could be moving to a position more suited for his size and skill set.

"It's kind of a natural position for him," Patton said. "He has leverage, good feet and he's smart. He understands the game, understands angles."

Said his father: "I always thought if he couldn't play tight end, center was the best place for him. I always thought it was a natural position for him because of his size."

The transition from guard to center has not been too taxing for Ikard because a lot of the blocking assignments are similar. In the Sooners' system, the center often helps the guards, and vice versa.

"I know what I'm doing," he said. "It's not like I'm clueless out there, I just have to sharpen some things up."

There are little things that have tested the sophomore's focus, however. Mentally, he has to be more alert when the Sooners run their uptempo offense. And physically, he has to adjust to making a quality snap and keeping his pads down. That prevents a defensive tackle from taking advantage of his lack of leverage and using a bull rush to collapse the pocket.

Nonetheless, Patton is not concerned about Ikard -- mentally or physically -- when the Sooners host Ball State at 6 p.m. Saturday at Owen Field.

"I don't worry about the mental part," Patton said. "The physical part -- he has the athletic ability to recover if he gets beat."

Heading into his first college start at center, it's not the big things -- blocking assignments or snapping the ball -- that concern Ikard.

"(Watching film) I was making all my guard calls, then Patton turned around and said, 'You're the center,' " Ikard said. "I'll be watching myself, then catch myself and remember I need to be watching Ben.

"It's just little small things like that."

Brandon Chatmon covers University of Oklahoma sports and recruiting for SoonerNation.

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