By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
NORMAN – The emotions will hit many Oklahoma seniors like an overload blitz today. Their game 11 a.m. game today against Iowa State is their last at Owen Field.
“It’s really flown by,” OU offensive lineman Bronson Irwin said. “It’s kind of strange this is the last one here. I’m looking forward to having a good one and putting on a good show for the home crowd for the last time.”
The win is the ultimate goal. It’s what teams work for year round and what fans ultimately remember. When it’s done the players remember other things.
The Sooners will honor 17 diverse seniors in the pregame ceremony today.
Some like Irwin, center Gabe Ikard, cornerback Aaron Colvin or safety Gabe Lynn made easy choices to come to OU.
Irwin’s from Mustang, Ikard from Oklahoma City, Colvin and Lynn are both from the Tulsa area.
“I always wanted to play here as a kid. I loved it,” Ikard said.
Others like running backs Brennan Clay and Damien Williams — both San Diego natives — and running back Roy Finch, who came to OU from Florida, traveled long distances.
But they melded together at OU.
Some had the kind of careers they dreamed about. Ikard will likely be an All-American for the second straight year when honors are handed out next month. Colvin was a three-year starter.
Others, like Finch, think about what could have been. There hasn’t been a game since 2010 when OU fans didn’t think Finch was under-utilized.
There are others like fullback Trey Millard and linebacker Corey Nelson. They had great careers, but will spend their senior day watching from the sideline due to season-ending injuries.
Others, like offensive lineman Austin Woods, are just thankful for any chance to play the game. He battled and beat cancer in 2012 just to be able to play the game he loves and be with his teammates.
“Being around each other for four or five years brings you a little closer. Being through all the stuff we go through just kind of makes us a tight-knit group,” Woods said.
Sports can be cruel that way. Long-term plans are hard to make. The group has shared a lot of wins and some tough losses throughout their time as Sooners.
When it’s all done, it’s not the games in front of sold-out stadiums.
“It’s being with my teammates, bus rides, just hanging out in the locker room, stuff that outside people don’t get to appreciate and maybe don’t realize this is why we love playing this game. The relationships you develop. I’m as close to (quarterback Blake Bell) and Trey as I am to my brothers,” Ikard said.
“At this place, you form a bond you’ll have for the rest of your life. Those are the guys who are going to be in your wedding party and you’re going to be taking Vegas trips with later on in life. It’s one of those things where you get extremely close to some guys. The value that has, as well as the experience on the football field, is something I wouldn’t replace for anything.”
The wins and losses are what goes in the record, but what Ikard said is what players hold onto the rest of their lives. It doesn’t go away over the passage of time. That’s what seniors start to realize when they walk out on the home field one last time.
“I’ve built solid relationships with people,” Ikard said. “I feel like when I leave I can still come back because there are some guys I can be really genuine with and they can be guys I can talk to the rest of my life. It’s a brotherhood.”
Two things for the Sooners to be successful:
Run like a running team: The Sooners have been an effective running team all season. They’re averaging 5.0 yards per carry and an average like that cannot be skewed. It’s what they’ve done best all season. Emphasize it by getting the running backs the ball early and often. OU’s three most effective playmakers have been running backs Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch. Let them carry the offense and let quarterback Blake Bell and the passing game complement them.
Throw downfield: There’s been a lot of talk about getting Bell into a rhythm early in games. It’s nonsense. The short-passing game has not been OU’s forte through nine games and there’s no reason to think it will be in the 10th. If you want to get him comfortable, hammer away with the running game early. Maybe even give Bell a couple early carries. If OU wants its quarterback to get comfortable, create some play-action opportunities. Those are comfortable throws capable of generating big plays.
By John Shinn
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