Oklahoma Sooners: Will Latu

Last week, Oklahoma center Ben Habern espoused how this offensive line figured to be the Sooners’ best in five seasons. Turned out, Habern won’t be a part of it.

Wednesday, Bob Stoops announced that Habern has decided to give up football due to lingering neck and back issues. Habern had undergone neck surgery this offseason to repair a recurring disc problem that had been bothering him since his freshman year. Habern, a preseason All-Big 12 selection, would have been a four-year starter.

[+] EnlargeGabe Ikard
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesGabe Ikard started seven games at center for the Sooners in 2011.
The silver lining for the Sooners is that they have another proven center in Gabe Ikard. And a rising star in Adam Shead, who will be able to take over for Ikard at left guard.

Really sad, surprising news out of Oklahoma today. Here's our news story:
Oklahoma senior Ben Habern's career is over.

The Sooner center won't return to the team after offseason neck surgery that fused together two vertebrae, despite expectations that he would return at full strength this fall.

...

"Our coaching staff knows this was a difficult decision for Ben," [coach Bob] Stoops said in a statement. "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."

First things first: Absolutely hate to see this for Habern. I covered the Sooners for The Oklahoman during Habern's freshman year, and he's consistently been a great guy to cover from that point through just last week, when he was chosen as a representative for Oklahoma at Big 12 Media Days.

Here's the video he took time to shoot for us. (Stick around until the end).

It's truly shocking news. Habern must have been thinking about quitting, but didn't know until just recently. If Oklahoma knew Habern's status was in doubt, it's highly unlikely he would have represented the Sooners at media days.

Habern's dealt with neck and back issues throughout his career, which also featured a broken ankle in 2009 and a broken right arm last season that forced him out of five games.

His experience and leadership simply can't be replaced this season. Oklahoma's fantastic offensive line takes a huge hit with his loss.

As for his spot on the depth chart? Look for guard Gabe Ikard (one of the league's best overall linemen) to slide over to play center, and junior Adam Shead to move up and replace Ikard at guard. The Sooners can handle that. Don't be surprised if freshman Ty Darlington gets some time at center, too.

Still, Habern has been around for everything coming into this year, and been a stalwart at center for the past three seasons. He saw the 2009 collapse up close. He was integral in the rebound for a Big 12 title in 2010. He learned from the pressure of 2011.

He talked about his neck surgery at Big 12 media days last week, but gave zero indication he was even thinking about quitting.

Now, he has.

It's a sad story, no doubt, but Oklahoma has no choice but to move on.

As Habern moves on, here's hoping for the best for him. I'm confident he'll excel in his future endeavors.

Suspended players reinstated

In Wednesday's statement, Stoops also said that receiver Trey Franks, defensive back Quentin Hayes and receiver Jaz Reynolds were each reinstated from offseason suspensions, but only for preseason practice. Their availability for Oklahoma's season opener at UTEP on Sept. 1 was still undecided. Receiver Kameel Jackson was not reinstated, and his suspension will be re-evaluated "at the conclusion the current academic session."

Stoops also confirmed previous reports that wide receiver Courtney Gardner and offensive lineman Will Latu would not be available this season.
Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. Monday night was a tough one for OU fans as Delray Beach (Fla.) American Heritage-Boca Delray running back Greg Bryant decommitted from the Sooners. It’s a major blow even though OU does have the commitment of the third-ranked RB in the nation in Cypress (Texas) Ranch back Keith Ford. Where might OU turn? Two names stick out in Adam Taylor (Katy, Texas/Katy) and Derrick Green (Richmond, Va./Hermitage). And one incredibly dark horse name to keep tabs on is in-state back Diquon Woodhouse (Altus, Okla./Altus), who fared well at OU’s camp in June. With no favorites, the search is back on for Cale Gundy.

2. With USC taking the commitment of ESPN 300 defensive end Torrodney Prevot (Houston/Alief Taylor) on Sunday, the Trojans are officially out of scholarships. The Trojans have used up their 18 scholarships and 16 of their 18 commits have OU offers. The good news for OU is with USC out of the way, there are a lot of west coast products that have the Sooners on their short list. And OU can no longer be beaten in a head-to-head battle with USC.

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Triple Option: Bester cleared by OU 

July, 27, 2012
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Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. There was some good news for OU fans Thursday night with the word that junior college transfer wide receiver LaColtan Bester is no longer a question mark. Bester will join the team immediately as there are no NCAA clearinghouse issues as it pertains to juco transfers. He was a star last season at East Mississippi Community College, helping lead the team to the NJCAA championship. Academic issues still remain for juco signees wide receiver Courtney Gardner and offensive tackle Will Latu.

2. Did you get enough of Bob Stoops and Landry Jones on Thursday? If not, revisit their trip to ESPN’s Bristol headquarters on SoonerNation. Stoops and Jones were any and everywhere for the ESPN car wash. They were on the radio, on TV and even participated in a 20-minute online chat. This was the second year in a row for Jones to be front-and-center on ESPN. Last year he was joined by wide receiver Ryan Broyles when the duo went through the ringer.

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Oklahoma’s recruiting class is quickly rounding into shape as the Sooners continue to address critical needs for the class of 2013.

Offensive tackle Matt Beyer (San Antonio/Reagan) picked the Sooners over Oregon, Oklahoma State, Baylor and others on Monday. He becomes OU’s 12th commitment and second tackle of the class.

A former teammate of current Sooners Trevor and Connor Knight, Beyer has an 80 rating according to ESPN’s Scout’s Inc. and should bring the ability to block in space, toughness and a nasty streak when he signs with OU.


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While the chances he plays this season are slim, the Sooners are high on the potential of 6-foot-9, 325-pound redshirt freshman offensive tackle Derek Farniok.

“What really impresses me about him is how hard he works,” said Daryl Williams, who is the favorite to start at right tackle. “When I first saw him I'll be honest I thought he was gonna be lazy or not be able to move, but he's really a hard worker. One of the hardest workers on the team.”

Farniok’s brother, Tom, started 13 games for Iowa State as a redshirt freshman last season. It will be tough for Farniok to do the same and crack OU’s lineup in 2012. Lane Johnson is an automatic to open the season as the starting left tackle, and Williams is likely to start right tackle, where he started the Sooners’ first game last season. OU also is bringing in junior-college transfer Will Latu, and Tyrus Thompson is entering his third year in the program. But it might not be long before Farniok, who hails from Sioux Falls, S.D., becomes a factor, too.

"He's worked his butt off this offseason," said offensive line coach James Patton. "Derek has want-to. He's just got to keep practicing. He's a young guy, a redshirt freshman, and is very green from a fundamental standpoint. He's just got to learn our stuff, and he will.”
Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. Academics is going to be a huge key for the Sooners over the next couple of months. It's critical that OT Will Latu, WR Courtney Gardner, RB Alex Ross and the rest of the 2012 class makes it to campus. Somebody like Gardner could be the difference in OU contending for a national title.

2. All Twitter signs are pointing to this being Tony Jefferson's final year in college. Jefferson several times has indicated on Twitter that he is planning to enter the NFL draft next year. I'm not sure that Jefferson is a first-round pick in 2013, but he could certainly play his way into being a second- or third-rounder. If that's where he ends up projecting, I'd be surprised if Jefferson came back.

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Jake Trotter answers readers’ questions about Oklahoma football in his mailbag every Friday. Got a question for Jake? Submit it here.

Sean Cowan in Neodesha, Kan., writes: I haven't heard much on running back Dominique Whaley, has he fully recovered? And how well do you think he will do this coming year?

Jake Trotter: Whaley (who fractured his ankle last season) isn’t fully recovered, but he has been doing some light jogging in practice, which is an excellent sign he’ll be ready to go for next season. Initially, I was skeptical about how big of an impact Whaley would be able to make next season coming back from such a horrific injury. That skepticism is washing away.


A.J. in Long Beach, Calif., writes: I saw that Torrea Peterson is on the spring roster. Does that mean he is officially reinstated to the team?

Jake Trotter: I’ve been led to believe that this is the case. Peterson has some work to do before his status is completely solidified. But for now, he remains a member of the team.


Chad in Edmond, Okla., writes: Prediction on starting TE first game? Will Latu at LT? If so, does he start? If not, where does he play and does he start?

Jake Trotter: I think there’s little question that Brannon Green will be OU’s opening day tight end. Tony Jefferson remarked this week that Green has been most impressive of all the newcomers. Lane Johnson is going to be the starting left tackle. Latu could play right tackle if he proves to be better than Daryl Williams or Tyrus Thompson, but my guess is that he’ll start out backing up Johnson on the left side.


Carter in Oklahoma City writes: With the decision of Kellen Jones to transfer, what does this do to OU's depth chart not only this spring but going into the fall at LB?

Jake Trotter: It does very little to the immediate depth chart. Senior Jaydan Bird was going to back up Tom Wort at middle linebacker either way. Kellen Jones could have emerged as No. 2 at weak-side linebacker behind Corey Nelson, but he would have played very little. Where Jones’ transfer hurts is 2014. Wort and Nelson will be gone, and Jones seemed like the most promising of all the young linebackers.
Solid yet unspectacular.

Those three words explain the play of Oklahoma’s offensive tackles in 2011. Starters Donald Stephenson and Lane Johnson played a key role along an offensive line that allowed just 11 sacks in 13 games.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinLane Johnson (left) is the favorite to start at left tackle in 2012 for the Sooners.
Johnson returns but Stephenson is gone to graduation as the Sooners prepare for spring practice. OU has plenty of talented, but inexperienced, tackles on the roster so the competition to start at both tackle slots should be interesting.

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Chat leftovers: Third receiver in 2012?

February, 21, 2012
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SoonerNation writer Jake Trotter chatted with readers Monday. Here's the full transcript. If you didn't get your question answered, send it to Jake's mailbag to be published on Friday.

Here are a few highlights from the chat:

Braden (oklahoma city): Out of 5 wide receivers coming in who's the biggest deep threat? And who's gonna be in the slot? Brennan Clay?

Jake Trotter: He's not as polished, but Courtney Gardner has the most potential to become that kind of player. Daniel Brooks, who could play slot, is actually the fastest of the incoming receivers, but he's not an outside receiver. I see Clay, Trey Franks, Brooks and Sterling Shepard all getting looks in the slot. Eventually, I think Sterling wins the job there. Maybe not right away, though.

Tony (Richmond, CA): Is this a make or break year for Josh Heupel at offensive coordinator?

Jake Trotter: OU was top 10 in scoring last season, despite not having its best player for a third of the season. So no, this is not a make or break season for Heupel. He had one bad game plan, Oklahoma State, and it was bad. But Heupel had a nice season for a rookie coordinator. He'll only get better.

Mason (alabama): It looks like OU has one of the toughest 3 game stretches in the Big 12 with @WVU, vs OSU and @TCU! How does the 3 game stretch and their entire schedule fare for OU?

Jake Trotter: Texas has a pretty tough stretch with OSU, West Virginia and OU back-to-back-to-back, but OU's is about as tough, considering WV and TCU are on the road. That stretch will make or break OU's season. It could catapult OU into the national title game. It could also send the Sooners to the Insight Bowl again.

Aaron (Weatherford): Will Landry Jones ever learn how to avoid the pass rush? And if not will the sooner offensive line be any better in 2012?

Jake Trotter: If he wants to be a Top 10 pick, Landry needs to devote the next few months to his footwork. It's one of the glaring weaknesses in his game. As for the line, it has a chance to be the best OU's had since 2008. Gabe Ikard, Ben Habern,Tyler Evans are all 2- and 3-year starters, Adam Shead is an up-and-coming run blocking guard. Lane Johnson is a solid tackle. Among Will Latu, Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson, I expect someone to emerge as a solid counterpart at tackle.

Thomas (Bee Cave): Long term conjecture for the basketball program?

Jake Trotter: I like Kruger. I think he and his staff have done a reasonably good job making this team competitive. But the cupboard is bare. And until Kruger recruits better players (his forte is developing players, not recruiting), the Sooners are going to have a hard time making the NCAA tourney.

Under Bob Stoops, the Sooners have relied on junior-college players from time to time.

Nothing, however, like this.

Seeking immediate impact at various positions, OU added a Stoops-high six juco players to this year’s signing class in wideout Courtney Gardner (Reno, Nev./Sierra College), defensive end Chaz Nelson (Columbus, Ohio/Garden City CC), cornerback Kasseim Everett (Philadelphia/Pierce College), offensive tackle Will Latu (St. Petersburg, Fla./College of the Canyons), tight end Brannon Green (Altamont, Kan./Fort Scott CC) and running back Damien Williams (San Diego/Arizona Western College).

“I felt we had more immediate needs this year than maybe at some other times,” Stoops said. “I feel these guys all really fit what we need and are special players.”

Which ones could compete for starting jobs next season?

(Read full post)

Przybylo's Mailbag: All eyes on Thomas 

February, 6, 2012
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National signing day is in the books, but that doesn’t mean Oklahoma is done with its 2012 class. But it does mean we’re allowed to start looking ahead to 2013 and 2014. Bob Przybylo answers all your recruiting questions. Have a question? Send it to his mailbag at bprzybyloespn@gmail.com

Ron in Tulsa, Okla., asks: I saw sophomore running back Devon Thomas was at junior day this weekend. What do you make of that?

Bob Przybylo: I saw that as a case of OU recognizing some home-grown talent and taking the early steps to make sure he doesn’t get away.

Not sure it would be accurate, but it wouldn’t be crazy to suggest that Devon Thomas (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow) will be the state’s best running back in 2013 as just a junior. At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, he has the size of an elite runner. And if you’ve seen him in the open field, then you know he has the speed of a top back.

I believe OU will try to stay at home for 2014 at quarterback and running back as I could see Justice Hansen (Edmond, Okla./Santa Fe) as the Sooners' likely quarterback option. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hansen was invited to junior day on March 3.


Will in Edmond, Okla., asks: I don’t want to assume, but Bob Stoops saying they might not be done has to be alluding to Davonte Neal, right?

[+] EnlargeDavonte Neal
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comDavonte Neal could take an official visit to Oklahoma this weekend.
Bob Przybylo: Yes, assume away on this one as I don’t see who else he could possibly be talking about than Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral).

A couple of positive notes for Oklahoma came last week in which the Neal family denied Arizona was its final official visit here coming up. It doesn’t mean OU will be the final visit when it’s all said and done, but it’s a start.

Another good sign was Ohio State essentially dropping out of the Neal race. And all these visits Neal has taken (OSU, Notre Dame, Arkansas, North Carolina), the fact he doesn’t seem enamored by any of them is also good for the Sooners.

OU is holding a scholarship for the eighth-ranked player in the nation and already has sent him a letter of intent, like a few other schools. Now he just has to sign one of them.


Jason in Oklahoma City asks: Why do you think the Sooners were able to close as strong as they did with the 2012 class?

Bob Przybylo: Besides the fact that it seemed a lot of the seven commits OU picked up last week wanted to be Sooners, I attribute a lot of the success to the “Cali trio” of Brennan Clay, Kenny Stills and Tony Jefferson.

Those three bring a different dynamic to the campus that hasn’t been seen before. They host most of the recruits, and the hosted recruits normally bring up some story regarding one of the trio as a highlight of the trip.

That goes along with the atmosphere as it feels like the tone on campus is a lot different than what it was in December. The in-house cleaning has been done, the coaching situation is now stable and everybody appears to be on the right page again.

With all that said, that final weekend of going four-for-four will be remembered for a while with defensive end Michael Onuoha (Edmond, Okla./Santa Fe), offensive tackle Will Latu (St. Petersburg, Fla./College of the Canyons), defensive back Zack Sanchez (Keller, Texas/Central) and wide receiver Courtney Gardner (Reno, Nev./Sierra College).


Charles in Shawnee, Okla., asks: Was there any recruit that OU had a realistic shot at but just messed it up for this class?


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Offensive line coach James Patton weighs in on Oklahoma’s offensive lineman signing class:

• G John Michael McGee: “John Michael McGee is a freak athletically. He’s not as big as Trent Williams, but in terms of a linemen who can move and bend and has quickness and agility – we saw him on tape and they threw a tackle screen to him and he walked in for a touchdown. He can probably play tight end. He’s just 6-3 and 265 pounds right now. He’s going to need to get his weight and strength up, but in terms of his athleticism, he can do a lot of different things for us.”

• C Ty Darlington: “He was number one in his class, he’s been coached by his dad at Opapka High School, he’ll be the Valedictorian of his class. He’s a great kid with toughness, he’s a leader and I can say enough about him. He’s a kid in the same mold as Ben Habern and Jon Cooper and those guys. He’s a quick-thinking guy. His mom was a cheerleader here and they were a Midwest City family and he grew up watching Sooner football for a long time.”

• OT/G Kyle Marrs: “Kyle’s a big, right tackle. He’s 6-6, 300 pounds and he looks great. I saw him last week. He’s a physical run-blocking guy. He probably is in the same mold of Bronson Irwin who played tackle in high school. He’ll probably be a good guard on the inside.”

• OT Will Latu: “Physically he’s a big, wide guy. He fills up half of this door here. He’s just a big-shouldered, wide, with a big back, arms, hands – he’s got a thick lower body.”

• On the offensive ine class as a whole: “We lost two with Stephen (Good) and Donald (Stephenson). We get two more (than that) coming in, and you know how it is with line play. We can be thin, but other guys can play other positions. If a guy gets hurt the next guys steps in. In next year’s class we’ll lose Habern, we’ll lose Tyler Evans, we’ll lose Lane Johnson. So these guys coming in that will probably redshirt – maybe Latu has the best chance to play early – those other three will get a chance to redshirt and develop.”
The Sooners took a junior-college offensive tackle in this class in Will Latu, who is not on campus yet, and won’t be until the summer. Latu is still at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif.

“He’s got to get his work done academically,” said offensive line coach James Patton. “His plan is to be here in June for summer.”

Will Latu
Courtesy College of the CanyonsOffensive tackle Will Latu could start immediately for the Sooners in 2012.
Patton compared Latu’s situation to that of Phil Loadholt, who because of a broken bone in his foot couldn’t practice in the spring, but won a starting spot at left tackle anyway.

“It’s no different than what I told Phil Loadholt when he came here,” Patton said. “I told him you’ve got to maximize every day and every week, get yourself in shape, learn the offense and be a big-time football player. With the clock you’ve got no chance to relax.

“Of course Phil accepted that challenge and did, and made the best of it and I think Will Latu will do the same.”

It will be interesting to see how the Sooners use Latu, who can play either tackle position. As of now, OU intends to swing right tackle Lane Johnson to the left side, then have Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson battle it out for the starting job at right tackle.

But Latu could be a factor on either side once he gets to Norman.

“He played left tackle (at Canyons) and he’s got good feet and quickness, but he can play right tackle too,” Patton said.

“It’s all based on how guys do when they get here. He’s got a mean streak to him and he’s physical.

“Phil had a work ethic and he knew he had a two-year window to make it happen. Will’s in the same situation.”

Sooner Snapshot: OT Will Latu

January, 31, 2012
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As national signing day approaches on Feb. 1, Brandon Chatmon is breaking down every commitment and signee in the Sooners' 2012 recruiting class. View all of our profiles here.

Name: Will Latu

Will Latu
Courtesy College of the CanyonsOffensive tackle Will Latu could start immediately for the Sooners in 2012.
Position: Offensive tackle

Height, Weight: 6-foot-5, 315 pounds

Hometown/School: St. Petersburg, Fla./College of the Canyons

Committed: Jan. 29, 2012

Scout grade: Not Ranked (Junior College)

Picked OU over: Utah, Arkansas State and had initial offers from Auburn, Florida State, West Virginia and others.

State of the position: Oklahoma is looking to find a starting tackle with only one returning starter, Lane Johnson, at the position. The Sooners do, however, have several talented young tackles on campus including Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson. The battle for playing time could be fierce at the left and right tackle spots this fall.

Pros: Latu is an athletic tackle prospect who is comfortable in space and on the perimeter. He has the talent to start immediately for the Sooners.

Cons: You never know how quickly junior college players will adapt to the demands of the Big 12 and how they will respond to the physical demands of a Big 12 schedule at an elite program.

Similar to/potential role: Lane Johnson. Another athletic tackle prospect from junior college but Latu is probably more prepared and comfortable at the tackle position. Don’t be surprised if he plays a similar role in 2012 that Johnson did in 2011.

Expected impact: 2012. Latu could start immediately for the Sooners at one of the tackle spots, he has the talent to make an impact regardless, carving himself a role along OU’s offensive tackle rotation even if he doesn’t win a starting spot. One look at his offer list speaks to his physical ability, though missing spring football could force him to make up a lot of ground in fall camp to earn a starting spot.

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