MCGILL: Van Horn's Marshall Experience Filled With Love
The Word on the Herd -- Nov. 24, 2016
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - This story, on Thanksgiving, is appropriate for Clint Van Horn - a senior football player at Marshall University.
Van Horn, you see, is a student-athlete who has plenty for which to be thankful because he was part of a football program to which he gave so much.
"He's been the heart and soul of the offensive line for the last three years," said Alex Mirabal, Van Horn's position coach on the offensive line. "He's given his body for Marshall University. Whether or not he plays football beyond this point, who knows, but there's a guy who literally sacrificed his body for this university."
And Van Horn wouldn't have had it any other way.
Marshall was where he nurtured his love for football and the school was where he found the love of his life. The physical setbacks and the emotional toll of a disappointing final season take a backseat to what Van Horn will carry with him as his Senior Day looms Saturday against Western Kentucky (7 p.m., ESPNU).
The sixth-year senior, who has played in 51 games (34 starts) and twice earned all-Conference USA honors as an offensive lineman, put himself through the six preseason camps and six seasons to get to this point, his final game as a collegiate football player, to stand shoulder to shoulder alongside brothers with whom he has shared the jubilation of 10-win seasons and bowl wins as well as the agony of defeat and personal loss.
"I love football," Van Horn said. "It's done so much for me, and not just with the accolades and all of the stuff on the field. You get to be a role model and a positive influence for younger people. You get to be a voice and speak up for people who might not have a voice.
"Football is a blue-collar sport," he continued. "Most of the guys you play with are going to be guys who come from under-privileged situations. Even though they've gone through worse stuff than I have, these guys remain extremely resilient. I listen to these guys talk, especially the guys from inner cities and different social backgrounds. I used to listen to (Rakeem) Cato and (Tommy) Shuler and (Keith) Baxter and all of the Miami kids talk about growing up in Miami and some of the stuff they're laughing about, I'm like, if I saw what they saw I wouldn't go outside. It was everyday life for them. A lot of people would've thrown in the towel and folded up, but these guys work harder and they add it to their grind.
"Last year, we had a couple of offensive linemen who lost their fathers and then someone lost an aunt who basically raised them and they still played. They didn't go anywhere except for the funeral and they came right back. That's why I do it. I love it - and it's really not (anything) compared to what a lot of these guys go through."
Van Horn is the son of Clinton Van Horn Jr., a pastor of Living Water Church International in Beckley, and Aretha Van Horn, a retired U.S. Army captain.
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Van Horn graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 2011 and headed to Marshall, where he hoped to someday become a mainstay on the offensive line. He became a second-team All-Conference USA performer as a sophomore despite spending the first half of the 2013 season as a backup, and then blossomed into a first-team all-conference lineman as a junior in 2014.
"For almost two years he was the best offensive lineman in the conference," Mirabal said.
There was nary a major college scholarship offer until Marshall entered the picture.
"I didn't have any other FBS offers," Van Horn said. "I've always been the underdog. Heading out of here will be no different."
Van Horn's last comment is in reference to his future in professional football. He has battled injuries, which is why he was granted a sixth season of eligibility, and he missed the Herd's last two games after starting the first nine. But he is not ready to abandon the pursuit of football beyond Marshall.
"I'd like to train and give it a shot at the next level," Van Horn said. "I know physically it'll be a little bit difficult because of the hole I've dug myself in physically, as well as publicly because it's hard for a lot of NFL teams to come to terms with that. But I'm going to give it a shot. I'll give it my all. I didn't do this for six years - I didn't go through six camps and six seasons - just to throw in the towel at the end. It's worth it to me."
No matter how that pursuit unfolds, as Van Horn segues from student-athlete to post-graduate adulthood, he knows he'll have one special person by his side.
These are the final days Van Horn has to juggle dating a coach's daughter.
"Right now we don't deal with it," said Bill Legg, Marshall's offensive coordinator and Van Horn's former offensive line coach. "Right now it's like it doesn't exist. I'm a coach and he's the player. Once that changes our relationship will go in a different direction."
Van Horn was a freshman when he first met Sarah Legg, the only child of Bill Legg, who has been one of the top assistants on Doc Holliday's staff since Holliday was hired before the 2010 season.
"I don't want to be cheesy or anything, but I fell in love instantly," Van Horn said of meeting Sarah Legg at Marshall.
Van Horn and Legg have been together for approximately two years. They approached Coach Legg with the dating proposal and got the stamp of approval.
"I stay as far out of it as I can," Bill Legg said. "He was supposed to graduate and she was supposed to graduate and they came to me and said, look, we've been friends for a long time and we'd like to date. If done properly, I was OK with it."
"Clint is a great kid," Legg added. "Not that I can tell my 24-year-old daughter what to do because I've raised her to be independent and self-sufficient ... my only reservation was if he does come back for the extra year (in 2016), he's still a player and I'm still a coach. But beyond that I didn't have any reservations because of the type of person he is."
Van Horn has leaned on his position coach and coordinator since he arrived on campus. It was Bill Legg, after all, who recruited Van Horn out of Beckley all those years ago. It was Bill Legg who saw the potential.
"Everybody knows that he's a smart guy and he's extremely knowledgeable," Van Horn said of Legg. "Any time you have a question he always has an answer and it's always the right answer. I've gotten to know him more over the past two years."
"He's a man who can impart a certain type of wisdom to you when you're dating his daughter and only child," Van Horn added, "and some of the things he's been able to teach me and show me is remarkable. I'm a better man because of him."
Van Horn and Sarah Legg are not yet engaged. The big man with a bigger heart has shown he can be patient. He has professed his love for football, but by devoting his six years and his body to Marshall, he'll leave the program with a lifelong teammate.
"The first time I saw her I was entranced," Van Horn said. "That hasn't changed. I love her more and more every day, and I've known all along that is who I wanted to marry."