Dec. 23, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall’s 2013 football season will end Friday in the Military Bowl against Maryland.
For Clint Van Horn, the first bowl game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium will be a springboard, too.
After all, the Thundering Herd starting offensive right tackle vaulted from “second team Marshall” to second team All-Conference USA in about a half-season in 2013.
“I worked hard in the offseason,” said Van Horn, a Beckley native who is the Herd’s lone in-state starter. “I’ve never been dedicated to anything like I have to this program this past year, and I can’t wait until this offseason because I’m going to put in even more work.
“It was a big shock for me to have the other coaches in the league consider me as all-conference. You don’t expect something like that.
“It goes to show hard work pays off. I’m glad the coaches from other teams show me that much respect. It’s truly an honor, it’s special, and I can’t wait to do it again next year.”
Van Horn, a redshirt sophomore, slimmed down and tuned up his 6-foot-4, 294-pound frame. He caught more than the eye of first-year Marshall offensive line coach Alex Mirabal, who gave Van Horn his first start in a Thursday night 51-49 loss at Middle Tennessee in Week 7.
There have been no regrets either way.
“Clint’s our best offensive lineman right now,” Mirabal said. “He’s made himself into that kind of player. He has a tremendous work ethic and he’s tough, but the biggest thing that got him where he is today is his will to make himself a better player. He’s smart. He’s a quick learner.”
The game prior to his first start, a last-gasp win at FAU, Van Horn got 58 snaps when Mirabal inserted him at right tackle and switched senior Garrett Scott
to left tackle, replacing senior Gage Niemeyer
early in the game.
The previous week, in a home win over UTSA, Van Horn didn’t get one snap. In the Herd’s last seven games, Van Horn has missed only 15 snaps.
“I kind of worked my way into the rotation and I got some game experience, so that was nice before me just being thrown in there,” said Van Horn, who played only on special teams as a redshirt freshman in 2012. “I wasn’t just thrown in there, it was a gradual thing.
“I was coming along, and that was nice. It helped me prepared me for actually starting. I’m nervous before every game, but when I did start, I was ready for it.”
So, how will he calm those nerves when the 9-4 Herd takes the field against the Terrapins (7-5), who will be playing their last football game as six-decade ACC members before heading to the Big Ten next season.
“There’s really nothing you can do to calm yourself down until you have that first snap,” he said. “That first contact, that first snap kind of helps you out. It’s like, ‘OK, I’m in the game, I’m ready to go.’”
A few days after the 13 other C-USA coaches made Van Horn a second team pick – Herd coach Doc Holliday couldn’t vote for his own players – Van Horn was stunned to be one of the Marshall coaches’ honorees at the 2013 team banquet.
He accepted the Chad Pennington Award, named for the former MU star quarterback. The honor goes to the Marshall offensive player whose business-like approach and dedication to tasks on and off the field make a difference.
“I was honored,” Van Horn said. “I wasn’t expecting to get an award. I felt there were a lot of guys on our team that had big years, and a lot of those guys got awards, too, but I was totally caught off-guard. And I really thank the coaching staff for it, because I know now they have faith in me, they trust in me.”
Van Horn said the Herd is anxious to finish the season against a team from one of the so-called power conferences. He said the Terps’ defensive front will be a challenge because of its athleticism, but added that Marshall – seeking a 10-win season for the first time since the 2002 Herd went 11-2 – proved its mettle offensively with big numbers again this season.
“It’s just like any other game,” Van Horn said of his first postseason game. “We played a couple of good teams before. I know there’s a lot of controversy on our schedule strength, but we played some good teams and know how to prepare for good teams.
“It’s all about watching film, practicing hard, seeing their looks, our young guys (scout team) giving us good looks. It’s big for me, getting to represent my school, this program, and getting us exposure that’s big.”
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The Herd left campus by bus Monday late morning, heading for Washington, D.C., where the Military Bowl teams have hotel headquarters until Friday morning, when the foes will head for Annapolis, Md., and the Naval Academy for the game that will be televised by ESPN … Besides holding practices Tuesday and Wednesday in suburban Virginia, the Herd will also have a tour of the U.S. Capitol and national monuments in Washington, and have a team photo taken on the Capitol steps … The Herd is scheduled to dress 65 players for thee bowl game, but 91 will make the trip …
With Fresno State senior quarterback Derek Carr finishing his career with a Las Vegas Bowl loss to Southern Cal on Saturday, that leaves Marshall junior Rakeem Cato as the top active quarterback in consecutive games with a touchdown pass. Carr reached 33 games in the loss to USC. Cato is at 31 – a Marshall record. The NCAA record for an FBS quarterback is 38, belonging to current Seattle Seahawks starter Russell Wilson – the last 11 games at NC State in 2009, all 13 games for the Wolfpack in 2010 and then 14 games after his graduate transfer to Wisconsin in 2011.