MOORE — When Gabe Ikard first arrived at Oklahoma in 2009, the program was coming off a loss in the BCS Championship to Florida. Even though it was a devastating defeat, he must have thought the Sooners would make it back to the title game during his time with the program.
After five years in Norman, the Sooners were unable to play for another BCS championship. Yet, Ikard may have experienced the next best thing when Oklahoma knocked off Alabama 45-31 in the at the Sugar Bowl.
“It’s great. Great feeling. Great way to end the year,” Ikard said. “Really happy for the seniors and myself. Really can’t ask for much of a better way to end a college football career. Really excited for our fans and the football program.
“It was a huge win for us and really puts things in motion. Kind of legitimizes us as still one of the premier programs in the country led by the premier coach in the country in coach (Bob) Stoops.”
During the run-up to the Sooners’ trip to New Orleans, Ikard was the one who was sent out to talk the media on almost every occasion. He had to respond to questions asking if the Sooners stood a chance of even being able to compete with the Crimson Tide.
At no point did the senior loss his cool. He would calmly let people know he liked his teams chances.
“Most people were saying it was impossible,” Ikard said. “But we didn’t listen to that. We knew it was Alabama versus Oklahoma. Not SEC versus Big 12. It wasn’t that they had more all-Americans. It wasn’t that for us.
For us, it was what do you see on tape and how can we take advantage of their weaknesses. That’s what we did. We played our best game of the year in all three phases of the game and just out-executed them.”
Ikard made sure to soak in the experience. From the victory to the atmosphere to being with his teammates a final time together, he enjoyed every moment.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Ikard said the day after the Sugar Bowl, upon returning to campus. “I’m sure over next couple of days it will sink in. We won so I didn’t have to do the whole crying thing or anything like that, like the seniors last year.
So I got to enjoy Bourbon Street with my boys and some of the ex players. We definitely enjoyed the victory.. It was great. Other than winning the national championship, you can’t ask for a better way to go out. I had a great time and a fantastic trip.”
While injuries mounted and other seniors saw their seasons cut short, Ikard was a mainstay for the Sooners. In many ways, he became the face of the program. With his academic achievements and charm with the media, the Sooners were not bashful about trotting him out each week as the team’s spokesman.
“As smart as they come as a football player and obviously in the classroom, as well,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “He’s a guy that cares deeply about this program. It meant something for him to come here and play, it means something for him every day, and that’s why you see him prepare and practice the way he does every single day. He’s played at an extremely high level for four years.”
Ikard was recently named one of the Big 12 Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year recipients for the 2013 fall semester. It was just one of several postseason awards the Bishop McGuinness product has taken home in from his final season.
Those awards include the Capital One Academic All-America of the Year as well as his being the recipient of the 2013 Lee Roy Selmon Spirit Award.
“To receive this award from the Selmon family is truly humbling,” Ikard said. “Particularly for a native Oklahoman like myself, to be the first individual from the University of Oklahoma to be recognized for representing everything that the Selmon family stands for is one of the most meaningful honors of my career.”
Ikard is also the first OU football student-athlete in program history to be named Academic All-America of the Year and the first to be named a three-time Academic All-American. He was previously honored with the 2013 National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete Award.
However, Ikard said all the recognition and awards he has received, he shares with his teammates. Even as others around them lost faith in what the Sooners could accomplish, he says they never lost faith in each other.
“When it came down to it, we played as a team,” Ikard said. “That’s what’s most important in the game of football. Eleven guys on the field at the same time working together. We did a great job of that. Finish strong. Had some rough patches in there. But I think it was great for the program the way we finished. Only going to get better going forward.”