OOLOGAH — Ask Gates Linihan what he likes best about playing football and the Oologah senior has a quick answer.
“To me, the best part about the game is making hits,” said Linihan, who will line up as the Mustangs’ starting strong safety for the second straight season.
“As far as I am concerned, a big ‘stick’ is just as good as an interception.”
Linihan contributed heavily in both areas on last year’s Mustang squad, which bounced back from an 0-4 start to finish 4-7 and make the playoffs once again.
He finished second in total tackles with 84, including 47 unassisted stops and one tackle for loss.
His two interceptions ranked second on the team and are tops among the Mustang defenders returning this season.
Additionally, the 5-7, 175-pounder, who also saw double duty as a kick returner in 2005, broke up a team-high four passes.
“Gates is just a hard-nosed kid,” Oologah head coach Sonny Schovanec said.
“He is either going to have the hardest hit of the game or he will be hit the hardest. One thing is for sure, though. There is going to be a big collision when Gates is involved.”
Schovanec is counting on Linihan to be a key part of this year’s Mustang defense, which may field only four or five senior starters.
Linihan, whose hard hitting on defense helped result in 20 fumbles and 11 interceptions thrown by opponents, is up to the challenge.
“Last year, a lot of younger players were able to get experience. That should help us this year,” he said.
“Especially on defense, we have to keep strong all the time.”
Linihan relishes his role, serving as the team’s “quarterback” on the defensive side of the ball.
“Before the game, I focus on what the opposing team’s offense does and how we need to adjust to that team’s sets. During the game, I make the calls on the field to switch (alignments).”
Despite the Class 4A Mustangs fielding another young squad in 2006, Linihan is excited about the season’s prospects.
The Mustangs have District 4A-3 opponent Wagoner, which lost to Clinton in the state championship game, at home. Wagoner could present a big hurdle in the Mustangs’ hopes of district dominance.
“Right now we need more intensity and need to get more people flying around the ball. We’re not where we need to be,” Linihan said during a recent workout.
But he expects the squad, which has been seen as high as No. 8 in Class 4A in preseason rankings, to be ready to go once the season opener arrives. Linihan knows he will be prepared.
“This is my last year so I want to go all out—every game and on every snap of the ball,” he said.
Based on Linihan’s love and knack for hitting, many opposing ball carriers and receivers will undoubtedly learn that lesson this season.