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Oklahoma football: Former OU center Ben Habern knows what it's like to be Peyton Manning

Ben Habern underwent a surgery similar to the one Peyton Manning endured. But at a different position and in a different situation than Manning, he had to make a different choice. On Saturday, he'll walk on the field for Senior Day with his old teammates.
BY STEPHANIE KUZYDYM Staff Writer Modified: November 23, 2012 at 11:27 am •  Published: November 22, 2012

And most of all, Habern wasn't a quarterback being protected. He was the protector. He dropped his head and hit the 300-pound lineman on the other side. Football comes with the risk of one wrong hit causing paralysis. Habern's injury severely increased that risk.

He was actually cleared to play after his successful surgery, but he heard the doctor's words when he added ‘I wouldn't let you play if you were my kid.' And then he thought. All of his injuries — his ankle, his arm, his neck, his back — added up. His dreams of being an NFL player vanished.

Habern continued to go to a majority of practices. Never coaching, but offering his experience when centers Gabe Ikard and Ty Darlington needed a word. As the center, he knew the playbook and the reads better than the rest of the line.

“He's the smartest guy on the team,” punter Tress Way said, who is also one of Habern's roommates. “It couldn't happen to a better guy. It's just unfortunate. I'm so pumped he gets to be on the field and I can't wait to see what kind of ovation everybody gives him.”

After Habern made his decision at the start of the season, he told himself he needed to find something that he was both good at and loved.

“That was football,” Habern said.

That's why now he's looking at working for an athletic department and using his degree as part of the media relations and marketing team. Then again, he said he always could become a coach.

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