BOGACZYK: Van Horn Prepared for Last Herd Campaign
The Word on the Herd-Aug. 21, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – With the 2015 college football season two weekends away – it’s Marshall’s 119th season, if you’re counting – maybe it’s time for some “political football” punditry. So, who better to seek out on the Thundering Herd roster than Clinton Chris Van Horn III.
“Clint’s the heart and soul and leader of this football team,” opined Marshall third-year offensive line coach Alex Mirabal. “Not just of our offensive line, but of the football team.”
OK, Coach, but that’s not the only reason to go to the senior from Beckley to get a platform for the season. It’s also because the All-Conference USA right tackle already has his MU degree in … political science.
To say the 6-foot-5, 314-pound Van Horn appreciates where he is – and where he’s been recently – would be a significant understatement. But what about where the 2015 Herd and where it’s going? What’s the difference in leading the 2014 Herd and providing strong guidance for the version that opens the season Sunday, Sept. 6 against visiting Purdue at Edwards Stadium?
“We can’t really allow guys to fall off,” Van Horn said. “Last year, the motivation was something that we didn’t get -- to prove to ourselves we could win the conference championship because we had lost the previous year (2013 in the title game at Rice) and that was a huge motivation then.
“This year, I’m glad we’re picked second or third in the conference, in the division, whatever. I like being the underdog because guys have to come out every day and you can’t fall off. It gives you more motivation. It lights the fire.”
Van Horn’s strides from overweight and overwhelmed walk-on recruit in the fall of 2011 are a testament to his will as well as Mirabal’s teaching. In Van Horn’s senior season, Coach Doc Holliday has a deeper team than the C-USA championship club of 2014 – but with names like Cato, Jasperse, Shuler, Rouse, Roberts and Hewitt gone, it is Western Kentucky that has gotten those pundits’ notice as the divisional favorite.
So, what are people overlooking about his Herd?
“I don’t think it’s being overlooked; maybe they just don’t know,” Van Horn said. “I feel like the leadership of this team has come huge strides in this offseason. You have a ‘Jock’ (Jarquez) Samuel and D.J. Hunter, all these guys – Remi Watson, a great leader, too – stepping up.
“They wouldn’t have assumed a leadership role a year ago, and now these guys are talking to young guys on the side, telling them how they’re messing up and how to do it right.
“What we have to understand is the thing with being respected by other teams in the conference is we haven’t done anything in 2015. All that was 2014 and you can’t bring all of that stuff into the next year. It’s history. None of that stuff matters after Jan. 1, when you start your offseason deal. So, it’s good being the underdog.
“It could be a number of reasons. 12’s (Rakeem Cato) not here. No. 1’s (Tommy Shuler) not here. A four-year starting center (Chris Jasperse) isn’t here. To the public and the media – and other teams, too – we have a lot of shoes to fill, a lot of questions to answer.
“Quarterback is a huge one, but also, you go 13-1 and you lose one of those games to a conference opponent (WKU), a division team, and they have a great guy (Brandon Doughty) at quarterback and they have that momentum going off that (Bahamas) bowl game. That was a huge game for that program, too. I mean, there are just a lot of things that play into all that.”
So, as the Herd season draws closer, who are some of the Van Horn running mates who may be players or have roles that demand attention?
“I’m going to go with two rooms,” Van Horn said. “One is the quarterback room with (new starter) Michael Birdsong, just because his leadership qualities this offseason have been outstanding. The guy grabbed the team by the collar and got the whole team going right.
“He’s the juice during conditioning; he’s always finishing first or second and he runs with skill (position players) and that’s a big boy (240 pounds) to be pushing himself that hard. He’s a guy that’s always prepared when he’s on the field, always enthused, and he wants to win every day no matter how he’s feeling.
“And then there’s that linebacker room. Evan McKelvey was hurt last year, and people forget about what he did two years ago – and he dominated in games then. If they think (2014 C-USA Defensive Player of the Year) Neville Hewitt was good, wait until they see Evan McKelvey back this year.
“You have him there, and you have D.J. Hunter. D.J is the fastest guy in practice that I’ve had coming off the edge. Since I’ve been here, I’ve never seen anyone come off the edge like D.J. Hunter.”
After 10-4 and 13-1 seasons, the Herd can give Marshall a third straight season of double-digit wins for only the second time in the major-college history of the program (1954-82 and 1997-present). That only happened from 1997-99, in the return from championship success in Division I-AA.
For his own part, Van Horn is a candidate to achieve something only one other Herd offensive lineman has in the program’s major college years.
After emerging from a backup role to midseason starter to All-C-USA second team pick in 2013, the tackle was a first team selection last season. Van Horn is a 2015 All-C-USA Preseason pick and if he achieves that in December, he’ll join fellow Woodrow Wilson High product Doug Legursky as the only Herd OL members to be named three-time all-conference selections in the FBS years.
Legursky was voted All-C-USA second team in Marshall’s first season in the league (2005), and was then a two-time first team pick before going on to a seven-year NFL career. The only Marshall offensive lineman more honored in such fashion was guard Aaron Ferguson, a four-time All-Southern Conference pick (1993-96) during the I-AA era.
Back when sophomore Legursky made his first all-conference team in ‘05, Van Horn was in the seventh grade at Beckley-Stratton Middle School. He’d played football for several years prior with the Southwest Bandits peewee program – and several more with his B-S Middle School Bulldogs and then with the WWHS Flying Eagles – before experiencing something for the first time in 2013 with the Herd.
“When I first came in here, I’d never had a winning season in football – midget league, middle school, high school,” Van Horn said when asked if he’d imagined the kind of success the Herd has had. “No winning seasons. The only thing I won at was wrestling (he was the state Class AAA heavyweight runner-up in 2011) – and that was an individual thing.
“I wanted to come here, and my original goal when I set out – and I lost my way the first two years – but the goal was to come here and get this program going in the right direction. And the guys I came in with we all had the same mindset; we all hated losing.
“The guys I came in with, the majority of those guys came from winning programs, so it was unacceptable for them to lose. I hadn’t experienced that, but wanted to win badly. And we were able to change the culture with leadership with those guys. And there also were some of the guys who were tired of losing from the previous teams, like Jasperse, (James) Rouse and ‘Swagg’ (Darryl Roberts).
“Then, the coaching staff (Holliday) brought in probably two years ago – Mirabal, Heater, Fuller, Furrey, Coach Sinclair (in strength and conditioning) – they really want to win. They love the kids, too, and love the process and it shows.”