Aug. 25, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Last season, when the once-enflamed Marshall-Miami (Ohio) football rivalry was rekindled as a non-conference date after an eight-year hiatus, Clint Van Horn was in something of a mop-up role on the Herd offensive line.
In a 52-14 Marshall home triumph, the Beckley native played 38 snaps as a backup at right tackle. Now, as the Conference USA favorite Herd points toward the 2014 season opener Saturday afternoon at Yager Stadium in Oxford, Ohio, Van Horn is regarded as the kind of player who can clean up rather than mop up.
The 6-foot-5, 310-pounder became the starter at right tackle in Week 7 last season, and in that second half of a 10-4 season that finished with a Military Bowl victory, Van Horn impressed enough to become an All-Conference USA second team pick by league coaches.
In other words, the MU redshirt sophomore was considered one of the top 10 linemen in C-USA ... and the only one among those 10 who wasn't yet a junior or senior.
"I'll say he's our best offensive lineman," Herd line coach Alex Mirabal said of Van Horn between the All-C-USA announcement and the Military Bowl. "Flat out, he's our best offensive lineman and he's made himself into that player."
Van Horn is one of 10 likely Herd starters who didn't start in the opener against the RedHawks last season.
"To be honest, I kind of wish I wasn't starting again, because I was hungry last season," Van Horn said Monday when asked to look back and contrast opening week a year ago with this Herd-RedHawks game week. "It was something I really wanted and I waited a long time to get there last year.
"It's something I worked really, really hard for, and I knew it would come to me eventually. I just had to be patient and show the coaches I could play, because I hadn't done that in previous years.
"And now that I've done that -- being more of a mentor to the younger guys and coaching them up -- it feels good to be in this role, but I kind of want to be back where I was last year because I kind of don't like the attention, don't like being `the guy.' I like coming for it, you know what I'm saying?"
Van Horn lost weight, got fit and now he's one of the Herd's best performers in the weight room, too. His 430-pound bench press in summer testing ranks third on the team, as does his pro bench of 28 (repetitions at 225 pounds).
He missed significant time in August camp with an injury, but Van Horn is back in action. So, he's ready for his ninth career start in the opener, joining fellow returning Herd starters Chris Jasperse at center and Sebastian "Swede" Johansson at left tackle.
"I wouldn't even call it an injury," Van Horn said of his time missed. "I wasn't worried. I was in the training room every day and those guys - I have the utmost confidence in our training staff.
"They said they'd get me back in a reasonable time and they did. I've been practicing and it feels great and I'll be full-go all week. I just can't wait to get back out there."
For part of the time while Van Horn was sidelined, starting guards Blake Brooks and Michael Selby also missed time. With all three starters back, Van Horn said their forced absence in camp will only help the Herd in coming months.
"All of our freshmen linemen -- except two of the guys who walked on -- they all had a lot of camp snaps, more snaps for any freshmen than you maybe will see in an August camp," Van Horn said. "Maybe more snaps for true freshmen anywhere, unless they're playing. And it gave them a chance to see how our offense really works.
"They got a chance to experience the tempo. Most younger guys don't get to do that because by the time they're done getting reps, we've already moved on to the tempo stuff and when they're getting reps, we're usually walking through stuff - I hate to use the words `walking through,' but kind of slowing it down for them.
"These guys got to see what it's really like, and they played against the (Herd defense) ones and twos, those guys cycling in and out, so it was really good experience."
Van Horn said the prolific Herd offense of the past two seasons - Marshall has averaged 516 yards over its past 26 games. has scored 38 or more points in 16 of those games and last season was among the nation's top 25 rushing clubs - can still be more dangerous with senior quarterback Rakeem Cato at the controls of coordinator Bill Legg's designs.
"It's preparation," Van Horn answered when asked what the Herd attack can do to put up even bigger numbers. "Being prepared for every look that we get, whatever a defense throws at us in any game this year, and so I think we have gotten better.
"'Rockhead' - (243-pound tailback) Devon Johnson adds a tremendous boost to the run game, a big, physical, strong guy. Cato has been working a lot on his game in terms of coverages. Coach Legg has been throwing all types of stuff at him, and there's nothing that Cato is not prepared for.
"We have a great new wide receiver in Angelo (Jean-Louis) and Davonte Allen has come a huge way compared to what he was doing last season. And, of course, Tommy Shuler, I can't forget about the record-breaking senior - and he'll get on me if I do. But our receiving corps has come huge strides, with a couple of great freshmen that you might see this year. We've just got a lot of weapons in our wide receiver room now."
The Herd opener will be its first trip to Oxford since a 45-6 rout by the Ben Roethlisberger-led RedHawks, another game in a rivalry that has drawn the ire of Herd fans for decades.
Miami went 24-3-1 in the first 28 meetings, but what really brought things to a boil was a five-game stretch from 1971-75, when Miami outscored Marshall 211-19, starting with a famed 66-6 rout against a `71 Young Thundering Herd team and a program decimated by the 1970 Marshall plane crash.
Finally, in 1976, Marshall pulled a 21-16 stunner over No. 20-ranked Miami - the Herd's first win over a ranked team. The series fervor was fanned again when Marshall returned to the Mid-American Conference from 1997 through 2004.
Van Horn said he didn't realize the rivalry rancor until the RedHawks came to Edwards Stadium a year ago.
"It's just a general description that I get from Marshall fans," Van Horn said of his knowledge of the MU-Miami football history. "I didn't really follow Marshall; I have to admit, I was a WVU fan, so I know a lot more about their history.
"But yeah, I know (Herd fans) hate `em. I remember seeing some signs last year in the stands that reverted back to after the plane crash, some of those games that were played. So, I know how these fans feel some type of way about Miami of Ohio."