CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If Marshall offensive tackle Clint Van Horn wanted to get the Thundering Herd starters from West Virginia together for dinner, it would be a pretty simple undertaking.
It's a party of one. Him.
Technically, if the Herd started the game with three linebackers instead of the usual two, Van Horn would have a dining partner, according to the depth chart included each week in the game notes. Either Riverside High's Raheem Waiters or Point Pleasant's Derek Mitchell would join Van Horn of Beckley, but when the Herd begins with its base offense and base defense, Van Horn is the only West Virginian among the starting 22.
That hasn't blocked him from success this year. He moved into the starting lineup for the Middle Tennessee game, earned the top offensive line grade versus Southern Mississippi and was named one of Marshall's four captains for Saturday's game against the University of Alabama at Birmingham. That's an honor that carries a little more weight with the 6-foot-4, 294-pound redshirt sophomore.
Van Horn is the first West Virginian to earn one of the 36 game captain spots awarded this season, and he understands what that means in the grand scheme.
"There have been tons of guys from West Virginia come through here and have been great players and coaches," the Woodrow Wilson High graduate said. "I feel a part of that and a part of this community. That's part of why I play hard each week. It's not just for me and my family, it's about the community. You grow up around this university and these fans in a town in southern West Virginia not very far from here, it's a very special thing."
It's special because it's unique, not just to have a West Virginia athlete among the leadership of a Football Bowl Subdivision team, but to have one in the starting lineup at all. West Virginia University has just one in its two-deep for this Saturday's game against Texas - H-back Cody Clay, a former George Washington standout from Alum Creek.
It's something of a sore spot for folks around this state, that FBS college football teams, especially the ones within West Virginia's borders, look past Mountain State talent and to other regions of the country to populate their rosters. But it's a matter of the bottom line. Those other regions just have more and more-talented athletes.
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday has said more than once that if he could find 20 players a year around Huntington that could help him win Conference USA, he'd sign them and look less elsewhere. But there just aren't that many. West Virginia is 38th in United States population with about 1.85 million residents and has one of the highest percentages of populations over the age of 65 at 16.8 percent.