BOGACZYK: Van Horn Happy His NFL Dream Hits Pause Button
The Word on the Herd-Feb. 25, 2016
By JACK BOGACZYK
Yet, during the shortest month of the year that became a long one for Van Horn, he felt like pro football might be where he was going to play his 2016 season.
Finally, Van Horn got what he’d hoped – an additional season of eligibility with the Thundering Herd, after the right tackle’s petition to the NCAA for the so-called “sixth year” was approved Tuesday. He’s an All-Conference USA (2013 and ’14) returnee, too.
He will play this season for Coach Doc Holliday’s team after getting only 10 quarters and 146 snaps in 2015, his senior season. However, the petition by Marshall on Van Horn’s behalf was rooted in his inability to play in 2011, after he brought longtime shoulder issues with him from high school. He was redshirted.
The wait, the process, was heavy emotional baggage, Van Horn admitted in an interview Wednesday, 24 hours after he heard he’s still be part of the Herd.
“I just felt like it was good they (the NCAA) were asking for more information because it meant they weren’t coming out with a ‘no’ automatically,” Van Horn said. “At the same time, it was kind of repetitive.
“I’m not knocking the NCAA at all because they like to get everything they need and make sure they have everything, because they don’t give (sixth years) out easily. I’ve read some cases where they didn’t give them out. At the same time, I didn’t want to get hung up on one thing and put all my hope into one thing. I just wanted to be as much of a realist as possible.”
Marshall filed a Hardship Waiver Petition (NCAA Bylaw 12.8.4) with Conference USA for Van Horn to repeat his senior season. That was just a first step. Because he redshirted in 2011, his four-season, five-year eligibility clock had expired with a 2015 season curbed by a right pectoral tear and subsequent surgery.
So, Marshall’s compliance staff had to file for a Five-Year Rule Waiver (Bylaw 18.104.22.168) with the NCAA, showing Van Horn’s play was limited by injury in 2011 as well as 2015.
He played in the first two games last season, but was injured in a Week 2 loss at Ohio. Returning in Week 5 for the Conference USA opener against Old Dominion, Van Horn was reinjured in the second quarter and never played again for the Herd, which finished 10-3 with a St. Petersburg Bowl win.
Van Horn spent the season with his offensive line group, with position coach Alex Mirabal and graduate assistant and former teammate Trevor Mendelson, helping groom younger players in the “big-uns” unit.
Not long after that bowl victory, Marshall began the process of trying to secure another season for Van Horn. Following surgery on Nov. 11, he began waiting, hoping, working to get back into shape for whatever the future would hold.
“At first I was on the side of I had a chance, literally, until the first time (the NCAA) came back and asked for more documentation, because they came back three times in three weeks – basically the whole month of February – asking for more documentation,” the 6-foot-5, 320-pound lineman said. “And after that first time is when I just completely moved on just so I wasn’t … I mean, I still wanted it, but I was just kind of numb to it then.”
The NCAA implemented the Five-Year Waiver Rule in July 2010. Since then, according to records provided by the Herd compliance staff, Marshall has gained a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA for four of five student-athletes – all since 2012.
Offensive lineman John Bruhin’s extension was approved in May 2012, but women’s soccer player Erin Blakely’s appeal was denied that August. In December 2012, basketball’s Dennis Tinnon received an extension. Van Horn’s former teammate, defensive tackle James Rouse, gained his extra year in March 2014.
Linebacker Evan McKelvey played for a fifth season in 2015 – and became the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year – but his season was not via a petition to the NCAA. McKelvey played in 2015 through a hardship waiver through the conference and not an extension of eligibility waiver.
He didn’t exceed his four-seasons, five-year “clock” after enrolling in the spring of 2011. He suffered ACL tears early in the 2012 and 2014 seasons, and received his fifth year back for the 2012 absence.
Van Horn said there were labrum issues from his high school football and wrestling days that dogged him upon his Marshall arrival, and he’d been “doing a ton of rehab” in some fashion throughout his Herd career. He finally emerged as a college lineman in 2013, upon the staff arrival of offensive line coach Alex Mirabal. By midway through that season, Van Horn was starting and impressed enough that he was an All-C-USA second team pick.
He was an all-conference first team selection in 2014, as the Herd won its first C-USA title. Then came the disappointment of 2015 for one of Marshall’s team leaders.
“I’ve said before, ‘Don’t take many things for granted.’ I don’t,” Van Horn said. “But you can’t appreciate certain things in your life until things force you to be more down-to-earth, closer to reality. So, I’m just really excited to play for Coach Mirabal and my teammates again. Playing for Coach Mirabal has just been special; I just want to give him everything I have.
“That’s all I’ve tried to do to this point is give him everything I have just because I trust him at a level I don’t trust many other people, other than my Dad, my Mom and my mentor from back home who was my (high school) wrestling coach – Coach (Chad ‘Street’) Sarrett. I don’t trust many people on that level, and that’s the realm I trust Coach Mirabal in.
“He always says he trusts me blindly. I know he trusts a couple of other guys like that, but it’s just good to have that relationship with a coach because you understand each other. I understand what he wants and I want him to have what he wants, just so things can go more smoothly in our room.”
Had the NCAA not granted Marshall’s request on Van Horn’s behalf, the 23-year-old tackle was ready to attend the Herd’s Pro Day on March 9, hoping to take the next step in his football career. Now, the May 2015 Marshall graduate in political science is taking classes toward one of his minors – criminal justice – and is pointed toward a second degree.
When he learned the NCAA had granted what he had hoped while in the Dunfee Weight Room late Tuesday morning, Van Horn shed tears. It hadn’t been very long ago when the big lineman had last dealt with those personal waterworks.
“I (cried) when I found out I wouldn’t be playing my senior season, after the ODU game, probably a week after that game, when I found out I needed surgery,” Van Horn said. “That was hard to swallow. And me getting so emotional over getting a sixth year (Tuesday), it was being able to play again, but also dealing with the surgery, not being able to play my senior year, all the elation of getting that back.”
Van Horn is itching to get back into uniform when the Herd opens spring practice on March 29.
“I don’t know exactly what they’ll have me doing,” said Van Horn, who figures to still be limited as he bounces back from surgery. “I know I’ll get to take some reps and do all the individual stuff. I don’t see anything that would keep me from doing most everything, except for maybe some team reps, but it depends how far along I am and how healthy I am then.”
Van Horn said it’s been a difficult 4 1/2 months, but as Mirabal’s and Mendelson’s “caddy,” he learned about himself and a sport he loves.
“Yeah, I’m prepared for the worst,” Van Horn said, smiling. “I didn’t know I was prepared for the worst until it actually happened. So now, if something happens, I know my role, know everything post-football is going to be OK because you live life and everybody else has their niche and they’ll eventually find it.
“I see Trevor, and my aspirations are different than his – I want to go to the NFL; Trevor wanted to coach. He’s wanted to coach since he stepped on campus. I’ve known him for a long time, since I got on campus (in the summer of 2011), known him for 4-5 years.
“He’s doing what he wants to do and what he loves to do. And he’s already moved on to that next chapter after (playing) football. Coach Mirabal and his leadership, I got to watch those things then, between Coach and (center Michael) Selby. I learned things from Selby where stepped up tremendously in a leadership role in the absence of somebody and having to make that up and he did a great job.
“It was special just to be there and see Coach Mirabal’s leadership and Trevor being a mentor for me, and also him transitioning to the next phase of his life, doing something he loves to do. That was just good for me to see and good for me to be around.
“Now, I just can’t wait to get back out there again.”