When Zach Latimer was recruited about of Denver, Colo. he was considered a tremendous athlete that would eventually grow into a defensive end.
Early in his career his athletic ability was evident and he was considered a future pass rushing specialist, but he was struggling in his effort to grow into a defensive end.
Latimer redshirted in 2002 and ate everything in sight trying to grow into a 250-pound defensive end, but he wasn't getting anywhere in that effort and his career appeared to come to a standstill.
However, OU Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables never lost sight of the fact that Latimer was a tremendous athlete and when the need for a back-up middle linebacker emerged last year, he turned to Latimer.
Taking to the position like a cat on cheese Latimer won the back-up role last year and finished the season with 12 total tackles, three tackles for a loss and one sack.
Now that Lance Mitchell is working to making it in the NFL, Latimer is finally getting a chance to be a starter for the Sooners at middle linebacker. Thus far, the experiment is working in grand fashion as he is having a good spring, but he will have to continue to work hard this summer with prized middle linebacker prospect Curtis Lofton planning on joining the OU camp in early June.
Lofton has plans to be the starting middle linebacker as a freshman and that competition will be interesting to watch during-two a-days. But for now, Latimer is the man in the middle, and he and recently talked to OUInsider.com about his opportunity.
JH: Everybody has to wait their turn at a D-1 program like Oklahoma's. It seemed to take a long time for you to even find a position that you could play at OU, but now that you are at middle linebacker it seems that position was born for you? What is it about middle linebacker that seems to be a perfect fit for you?
ZL: "I guess it is just getting out there and just finding the ball. You are in the middle of the field and you are just flowing to ball. You are flowing to the right and then flowing to the left, and that is what I like. I like attacking the ball and wherever the ball is that is where I want to be. I guess middle linebacker is where I found my home."
JH: I guess at defensive end you didn't have the freedom that you enjoy at middle linebacker?
ZL: "Playing defensive end wasn't going to work because of my size. As a pass rusher, I was going to be fine at defensive end, but when they started to run the ball it was timeout right there. I was taking on double-teams all day, and at my size I had to take a step back. Moving to middle linebacker really helped me out just flowing, reading and finding the ball."
JH: With your size at middle linebacker, are you are able to take on the run better?
ZL: "I can move and make you (offense) find me at middle linebacker. I am going to go find the ball. I don't necessarily have to take them (OL) on all the time. When necessary, I can do that and put them back in the hole. Don't let my size fool you. I can take on some 310-pounders and more than hold my own."
JH: So size is not a factor for you at middle linebacker? And lets be honest, you don't always have to take on offensive linemen anyway do you?
ZL: "I would rather not take on offensive lineman if I can help it. If a tackle is pulling, but the ball has already cleared and is in front of him I am just going to go and make the play because there is no sense me taking him on. It is all about angles. I might catch him crossing his feet or something and I might lay him out. It is all about balance and all that kind of stuff. There is a lot more than goes into it than just taking on offensive linemen."
JH: Coach Venables says playing middle linebacker is the toughest of the three positions. Would you agree with that?
ZL: "Yeah, I guess it is. I have only played SAM a little bit and I have never played WILL, so I haven't played all the positions. I really don't know how hard it is because it all comes down to just getting in there and watching film. That allows you to know what your responsibility is, and once you know that then reacting to a play becomes second nature for you. Then you can go out there and play and just have fun, instead of getting out and asking yourself if you are supposed to be there, or am I supposed to be here? You are not really playing 100-percent because you don't know if you are supposed to be there or not. That is what it all comes down to — just learning through film and through repetition and knowing what you are supposed to do and then turning loose."
JH: You have to make all the calls and call all the signals for the defense, so how is that going?
ZL: "It is going pretty well. I followed Lance last year and just watched everything that he did. That really helped me out the whole year seeing how he handled everything. When he left I just continued to do the same thing that he did."
JH: Have you called something yet that was totally wrong?
ZL: "Yeah, that has happened more times that I would like to admit. But it is all just a learning process, and that is what we are out here in the spring for. Once we get it all together, then it is all going to be good."
JH: What are your thoughts on the linebacker corp?
ZL: "We are very athletic and there is a lot of speed across the table. I am really excited for the season to come so we can showcase all three of us across the board what we have. Clint and Rufus both played last year, but really nobody knows anything about us. We are going to go out there next year and really show them what we have."
JH: So you feel you guys are the unknown unit right now, despite the fact that two of you have played a lot of football?
ZL: "Right, but it all comes down to taking it game by game and slowly but surely showing the world that we have a good linebacker group. We really have a good defense, but right now the linebackers are going to get it together."
JH: How do you feel that you have played this spring?
ZL: "Mentally, I need to start reading the formations more and know what is there. I am almost there, but it is not where I need it to be. Once I get that I can just turn it loose and start having fun."
JH: How about the defense as a whole?
ZL: "When we started out everybody didn't know where they were supposed to be because we had so many guys in new positions. We are making leaps and bounds from the first practice to now. All we have to do now is go into the spring game and turn it loose."
JH: Are you looking forward to the spring game?
ZL: "I sure am. I have about 15 family members coming down and we are going to have a good time."
Q&A with Zach Latimer
Sooners Illustrated Top Stories
Przybylo: Back to drawing board for OU's DOU's defense must find its heart, soul and identity pretty quickly because things will only get tougher for Sooners down stretch run of Big 12 play.
Sooners Illustrated7:02 AM
Video: Joe Mixon with historic outing for OUOU coach Bob Stoops talks about the huge performance running back Joe Mixon had in Sooners 66-59 win at Texas Tech.
Sooners IllustratedYesterday at 2:50 PM
Home sweet home in Lubbock for Baker MayfieldA sweeter reunion there couldn't have been for OU quarterback Baker Mayfield in his return to Lubbock.
Sooners IllustratedSaturday at 11:23 PM
Video: Bob Stoops after 66-59 win at TechOU coach Bob Stoops' opening statement following Sooners wild 66-59 victory at Texas Tech.
Sooners IllustratedSaturday at 10:43 PM