HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - There's a reason, Marshall offensive line Coach Alex Mirabal said, that redshirt sophomore Clint Van Horn went from second-team on the Thundering Herd's depth chart to second-team All-Conference USA in less than a season. What you get from Van Horn on weekdays is exactly what you get on Saturdays.
"His practice reps are just like his game reps," Mirabal said. "Even when we're going against air, he's really blocking a person in his mind."
Van Horn's round-the-clock dedication - not just to the craft of being a starting tackle, but to look like one as well - is what has made him so important to Marshall's offensive success as the Herd prepares for its Dec. 27 Military Bowl appearance versus Maryland (2:30 p.m., ESPN).
It wasn't until the Herd's seventh game of the season against Middle Tennessee that Van Horn cracked the starting lineup. Mirabal had shuffled the tackle rotation, pushing Garrett Scott to left tackle in place of Gage Niemeyer and promoting Van Horn to starting right tackle. Van Horn never relinquished the job, and Mirabal admits that he probably waited too long to pull the trigger on starting Van Horn.
Van Horn said he had been preparing for that chance for a while.
"I worked my butt off in the offseason," he said. "I did a lot of extra stuff. I changed my lifestyle in terms of the way I eat. I sped up my metabolism and really did my homework on health and strength training. It all just goes back to hard work and I can't wait to put it in this offseason. If I can do that in one summer, I can't imagine what I'll be able to do with a winter and a summer."
Van Horn, doesn't remember his exact maximum weight, but said it was sitting in the mid-to-high 320s. Through changing his diet and exercise, he dropped as low as 284 pounds. Coaches actually asked him to pack a couple of pounds back on his 6-foot-4 frame, and he's now listed at 294.
Breads became almost non-existent on his plate. His grain intake came from granola or cereal or other low-calorie options. And by shedding more than 30 pounds, he became more flexible, mainly because he could now perform the exercises he couldn't as a 320-pounder. It also gave him the conditioning to start and stay in the entire game in Marshall's high-tempo offense.
"I feel bad that I didn't do it sooner and I didn't take it seriously sooner," he said, "because I know how much this means to a lot of my teammates and it's started to mean a lot to me, too."
It also became obvious how much Van Horn, a graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School in Beckley, meant to the offense. The Herd averaged 53 points in the six regular-season games he was in the starting lineup, as Marshall surged to a C-USA East Division title and a berth in the conference title game.