NORMAN, Okla. — Aaron Colvin told us things would be different.
Before the season began, the Oklahoma senior cornerback was asked to name a breakout star for the Sooners, and he responded with an unlikely candidate:
Lynn, a senior defensive back, has bounced around the secondary and battled inconsistency during his career, playing cornerback, nickelback and safety in his five seasons in Norman. He’s finally found a home at safety as a senior, a consistent presence on the Sooners defense.
“Gabe is our anchor,” Colvin said.
Lynn’s play in OU’s 41-31 victory over Kansas State is an example of the value he’s brought to the Sooners defense in 2013. He set the tone early in the Nov. 23 victory, tackling Wildcats running back John Hubert for a 6-yard loss, then sacking quarterback Jake Waters on third down to end KSU’s first drive to help the Sooners hold a 7-0 first-quarter lead.
The Tulsa, Okla., native has turned up his play in OU's last few games, recording 11 tackles and two sacks in the Sooners’ back-to-back wins over KSU and Iowa State after their blowout loss to Baylor on Nov. 7.
As injuries have hit the rest of the defense, Lynn has played the role of experienced veteran. He leads the team with three interceptions and has 46 tackles, ranking fifth on the team. One of four returning starters from last year’s defense, Lynn’s move to safety has allowed him to use his physical mindset to his advantage while limiting the one-on-one coverage responsibilities that led to his struggles as a underclassman.
“The position Coach Mike [Stoops] has put him in has allowed him to go out and there and really play to his strong suit,” Colvin said. “Gabe has always been real physical, always liked to hit. With the position he’s at now, he’s being able to showcase that.”
Lynn had his ups-and-downs as a sophomore cornerback, becoming the scapegoat for a lot of the Sooners’ defensive struggles due in part to lofty expectations based on his status as an elite recruit in the Class of 2009. As a junior he moved to nickelback and showed remarkable improvement. As a senior, he’s proven to be more trustworthy than at any time during his career, and his leadership has been critical for a young defense.
“He has really made a conscious effort to be more of a playmaker and be a guy that you rely on,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “... The trust and the reliability has really grown all season.”
Colvin has dealt with various injuries this season, missing two games, and senior linebacker Corey Nelson was lost for the season in October. Those injuries have left Lynn as the lone senior to start all 11 games, making his leadership role even more valuable.
“He’s a guy that when Aaron [Colvin] is not in, we really look to,” Stoops said.
His mentorship role has also helped redshirt freshman cornerback Zack Sanchez hold up well during his first season as a starter. Sanchez has had moments when he’s excelled, such as his 74-yard interception return for a touchdown against KSU, and moments when he’s been picked on, such as his bad outing against Texas Tech. Through it all, Lynn, who had his own struggles against the Red Raiders as a sophomore, been there to relate with Sanchez and help him forget the past and move on to the next play.
“Gabe has been that big brother to always help me when I’m down,” Sanchez said.
Heading into OU’s Bedlam battle with Oklahoma State on Saturday, the Sooners defense will be counting on Lynn to continue his dependable play against a Cowboys offense that has beaten teams on the ground and through the air.
“It is really important to him to play well,” Stoops said. “I am really pleased with his development.”