August 2, 2012

OU Football: Habern ends career due to injury

John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said he would make an announcement regarding the roster. On Wednesday afternoon, he dropped a bombshell.

All-Big 12 center Ben Habern has decided to end his career due to a neck injury.

“Our coaching staff knows this was a difficult decision for Ben,” Stoops said via a statement issued Wednesday afternoon. “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.”

Habern was limited to six starts last season due to a broken arm. He missed spring practice after having surgery on his neck for an injury that dated back to high school. Habern started 30 games over his collegiate career, which started in 2009. He was a preseason All-Big 12 selection heading into this season.

Stoops also announced that wide receivers Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks and defensive back Quentin Hayes have been reinstated to the roster. But, as of now, the trio will only be allowed to practice. Stoops said the group remains suspended indefinitely from playing games.

“They are going to miss multiple, multiple games,” he said Wednesday night at the Sooner Caravan stop at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

They, along with wide receiver Kameel Jackson, were “indefinitely suspended” from the team in June. Stoops said Jackson’s suspension will be reviewd at the end of the current academic session, which ends Friday.

Stoops also said junior college transfers Will Latu, an offensive lineman, and Courtney Gardner, a receiver, will not play at OU this season. Stoops hopes Gardner will be able to join the program in January. Gardner needs to obtain his associate’s degree from Sierra Community College in Rocklin, Calif., to become eligible.

The roster announcement confirms the Sooners will likely head into the season extremely thin at wide receiver. Junior Kenny Stills is the only receiver who has started a college football game. Freshmen Trey Metoyer, Durron Neal and Sterling Shepard and junior college transfer LaColton Bester will have to play major roles this season.

“We’ll be better at receiver than everybody thinks,” Stoops said. “Everybody just relax. We have to go out and coach them.”

Stoops said Bester arrived in Norman on Wednesday and cornerback freshman Gary Simon is expected to arrive in Norman today. That was welcome news after it became official that Gardner and Latu won’t be playing for OU.

Habern’s decision to end his career is the move that seemed to come out of nowhere. The senior joined quarterback Landry Jones and cornerback Demontre Hurst at Big 12 Football Media Days in Dallas on July 23. Habern certainly didn’t act like his career was in jeopardy when he met with reporters.

“(OU team physician Dr. Brock) Schnabel is an amazing doctor. He’s done a few of my surgeries. I have complete trust in him,” Habern said. “To know exactly what he did and how he fixed it, to know what’s in my neck now is completely safe and everything’s healed up, it’s good.”

The coaching staff just found out about Habern’s updated status a few days ago.

Last season, OU moved All-Big 12 guard Gabe Ikard to center after Habern suffered the arm injury. There’s actually pretty good depth at the center and guard spots for the Sooners to withstand Habern’s sudden departure.

“It’s horrible. Ben has his best interests at heart,” Ikard said Wednesday night. “It’s one of those things where when you lose your best lineman, it’s horrible for him and horrible for the team. He’s taking care of his health and making the right decision.

“I assume I’ll be at center all of two-a-days now.”

Stoops said Ikard is correct.

“I’m gonna miss Ben, but we have other guys on the line with experience. It’s the most experienced position we have on the team,” Stoops said. “In that regard, it will be OK.