Gabe Ikard and the Sooners are home with their families celebrating the Holiday season. But after several bowl practices, Ikard talked about what it means to the team to get extra work with the coaches. He even talked about what it meant for him last year being thrown to the wolves against Gerald McCoy.
Listening to Coach Venables talk last week, I noticed that he mentioned how the coaches are constantly reminding you guys of the last two outcomes in the Fiesta Bowl.
Oh no doubt. Everyone wants to tell us that we've already won this game, but history tells that's not the case. UCONN is on a roll with winning their last five games. They look really, really talented on film. They're big, strong and fast. They're the Big East champions. There's absolutely no reason for people to say that we're going to win by just rolling our helmets out there. That's not going to happen.
You've been on a team that won a bowl game, last year. What's the winning formula as far as balancing business and pleasure? Obviously, you're there to play a football game. But a bowl game is supposed to be somewhat of a reward.
You get all those gifts (laughing), that's the reward. You know what you're there for and that reason is to play a football game. Don't get me wrong, we're going to enjoy ourselves out in Arizona. I think we get to go to a Phoenix Suns' game, we also get to go to the Insight Bowl and other things. But when it comes down to it, we're going to be practicing. We're going to be reminded, every chance, that we're there to play and win.
We hear a lot about how valuable these extra practices are. For a guy like yourself, being a true freshman last season, what did those extra practices mean for you?
The extra practices for the Sun Bowl meant playing scout-team center, blocking Gerald McCoy and a healthy Adrian Taylor every single day (laughing). And, I might add, on every single play. After lifting! Getting to play against those guys, last year, is probably the whole reason I got moved to the line. I was in there battling with them every day and I got a lot better with that competition. That was valuable experience, going against two guys of that caliber.
So for the young guys, these practices are pretty important?
Oh yeah. We've got a lot of young linemen, we've got a lot of talented kids. Guys like Darryl Williams and Adam Shed are going to be great players, and the last couple of practices they've been getting tons of reps. Those reps are going to help them when they go into spring ball and then into two-a-days.
Did you volunteer to play scout-team center?
No (laughing). Actually, it's a good story. Gerald and Adrian were just blowing the scout-team center into the back field, and I was going only every three plays as the tight end because I was red-shirting. All of the sudden, Coach Shipp said, 'Gabe! You come give these two a look. I know you can give them a look.' Coach Shipp is the whole reason that I'm on the line now.
So, how did you do?
I tried my best. I gave a Top-3 draft pick about as good of a look as you can when you're 250 pounds.
Was it like survivor?
Oh my goodness, I would pray before every practice. I was just hoping that they wouldn't hurt me. Every day after practice I would thank God that I was okay.
Gabe, did you see Landry take some big strides, career wise, with those wins over Oklahoma State and Nebraska?
He's been a great leader. He's stepped up and made some tremendous plays in the last two games, and especially in the championship game. He's made some big time throws, where only his receivers can get to them. All of us have all the confidence in the world in him now. He's a veteran quarterback now. I mean he's been a starter for two years for one of the top teams in the country. And he's gotten better, he's more vocal and he's a great practice player. We're going to go as far as he does, he's a true leader.
When were final exams over?
What's it like, being all alone on campus?
Basically, we spend all day at football and at night we try to eat together. Then we go to sleep (laughing). We'll try to catch a movie here or there, but for the most part it's all football. There's nothing else to do. But we're enjoying it.
So it's like a less strenuous mini-camp?
Yeah, it's almost like a two-a-day atmosphere. We're up here watching film, we're lifting and then we practice. It's all football.
What do you like about UCONN's defense?
They have two really good interior linemen who will be a big challenge. They get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, so it's definitely going to be a challenge for us to protect Landry and open up holes for the running backs.
You talked about Landry's confidence, what's the confidence level of the team like?
We're confident, but we have to be on edge. We're going out there to a place where we haven't had much success. We're not over-confident, we're respecting what UCONN does and how they play. We're in no way going in there with a cocky attitude. We've got our mind on business.
How much would it mean to help some of these older guys go out with a BCS-bowl win?
That would be great for those guys. It would be tremendous to get a win at the Fiesta Bowl, where we've had troubles. And it would be great for Coach Stoops and the staff to get that off their backs.
Are you excited to see Coach Heupel take over the play-calling reins?
Everyone loves Coach Heupel, he's definitely a player's coach. He's always positive and has good constructive criticism when needed. We were all really happy to hear that he got the job, and it was nice to know that we weren't going to have to learn a completely different offense.
Do you notice any changes?
There's been nothing different. Basically, we're in the same system. I'm sure he'll have his own slight tweaks, but those are for the skill guys to worry about. We don't have much to change on the line.
Who's louder, between Coach Wilson and Coach Heupel?
It's not even close (laughing). At times Coach Heupel can be vocal, but Coach Wilson is most definitely the louder one.