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OU football: Big win over La. Tech gave walk-on linebacker Caleb Gastelum a night he won't forget

by Jenni Carlson Published: August 31, 2014


photo - Oklahoma Sooner Caleb Gastelum (45) deflects a pass intended for Kenneth Dixon during a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma Sooner Caleb Gastelum (45) deflects a pass intended for Kenneth Dixon during a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman

Fans streamed toward the exits, players headed toward the locker room, and still, Caleb Gastelum lingered on the Owen Field turf.

He talked with family. He posed for pictures. He soaked in everything.

Hard to blame him.

The Oklahoma reserve linebacker had a game he could’ve only dreamed about when he arrived on campus as a walk-on. Even though this 48-16 victory against overmatched Louisiana Tech might be soon forgotten in a season many expect to be grand, Gastelum will long remember it.

That’s because he stepped in and played nearly every snap of the game. On a night when one of Sooner Nation’s biggest fears was realized — Jordan Evans was knocked out of the game, ejected for targeting, and the inside linebacker spot already left thin by Frank Shannon’s ongoing legal battle was suddenly a committee of one — Gastelum had a performance that should put many folks at ease.

The fifth-year senior might not have a scholarship — someone needs to get on that! — but he can hold down that position just fine.

“It’s something I’ve been preparing for all week,” Gastelum said. “You never want to see a teammate come out like that, but that’s why it’s so important to be prepared.”

Many wondered what might happen if Evans got knocked out of a game, and less than a quarter into the season, we got to find out.

On a second-and-long, La Tech quarterback Cody Sokol scrambled out of the pocket. Evans came up to meet him, lowering his head and slamming the top of his helmet into the quarterback’s helmet.

Targeting was called, which carries not only a 15-yard penalty but also an ejection.

Sooner Nation held its breath.

A lengthy replay didn’t just uphold the penalty. It confirmed it. The replay official in the booth saw that Evans’ head was lowered; heads-up tackling has become all the rage in these concussion-conscious days. He also saw that Evans’ arms were near his sides; having your arms out and attempting to wrap up a player is another way to avoid a targeting call.

I talked to a longtime official who’s now retired, and he said there was little chance the call was getting overturned.

Sure looked like the right call. It wasn’t popular inside the stadium, but it was textbook targeting.

Enter, Gastelum.

A homeschool kid who was born in Tulsa, raised in Catoosa and moved to Claremore, Gastelum had a couple small-college offers after playing on a homeschool team in high school but opted to walk on at OU instead.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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