NORMAN — Oklahoma freshman linebacker Jaren Kanak was thrown into the fire last Saturday, and probably played about as well as he could.
The Hays, KS, product turned his playing time into 10 total tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in OU’s win at Nebraska. He filled in for DaShaun White at the cheetah position when White was disqualified for targeting late in the second quarter.
Kanak had dominant high school stats and film, along with rave offseason reviews that left Oklahoma fans giddy about his future in Norman. At 6-foot-2, 221 pounds, he seemed like the perfect Swiss Army Knife for Brent Venables and the defensive staff.
Even though Kanak starred throughout fall camp, too, there’s certain things players can only learn in a real game. Even though White will return to Oklahoma’s lineup on Saturday, Kanak was able to prove he’s ready to push his way onto the field too. And that’s good for the Sooners, who seem to have solid depth across the board.
“Yeah I mean there’s — you can try and recreate the game as much as you can in practice,” Kanak said. “But you know there’s certain things that once you get on the field you kind of have to learn as you go. The coaches do their best to try and simulate it out here and get that level of strain so when we get to game day we’ve already have that level of preparation.”
“I don’t really believe in ceilings. I’m just gonna always continue to try and do my best to get better or get to wherever my best is wherever that may be.”
White’s suspension was only for a half, and the senior will be back to claim his starting spot on Saturday. But the bigger picture is that Kanak is ready to provide the Sooners with rotational minutes. He came to Norman as a talented freshman, but will now be counted on to make big plays in big games. If his first half of heavy playing time is a peek into the future, Oklahoma is in good hands.
“I think Jaren was very productive,” Ted Roof said. “He made some big plays for us, and there's a lot of areas to improve on as well. That's all of us every day. He's very prideful, cares a lot and works his tail off as far as preparing. I have a lot of respect for Jaren. He's going to be a really good player here before he leaves Oklahoma.”
Now that the Sooners know what Kanak is capable of, it will have to become routine. The defense is counting on his depth, and the coaches like to substitute to keep bodies fresh. The team knows Kanak can help the team win.
“I was so happy for him,” linebacker Danny Stutsman said. “His number was called and he was ready. Every single day at practice, he’s always there trying to stay ready and it paid off. I’m proud of him for what he’s done, but like we said last week, he needs to step it up again this week.”