Marshall football: Hard work pays off for Van Horn
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.
Mirabal said Van Horn's intensity at every point in the practice week is what makes him so good.
"You see the effort and intensity when he's blocking air as if it was a guy on Saturday that he's blocking," Mirabal said. "He visualizes himself having success and it translates to Saturdays. Unbelievable work ethic, tough as nails, strong, but the most important thing is his desire to get better."
Opposing coaches felt the same way. They're the ones who vote on the all-conference football team and they're the ones who felt that, even with an abbreviated career as a starter, Van Horn had the talent deserving of an all-C-USA selection.
"That was a huge shock to me, that the other coaches in this league regarded me as an all-conference guy," he said. "I wasn't expecting that. I just wanted to give it 100 percent and put everything in it.
"If I'm going to do this and school, they're paying for my school, so I might as well give 100 percent," he said. "There's a bunch of guys on this team that go so hard in offseason workouts, and being around that type of competitiveness and that type of atmosphere forces you to join in."
When Van Horn says he'll continue working with the same intensity that spurred his rapid ascension up the depth chart and in the minds of opponents, Mirabal believes it. He's seen how Van Horn already has molded himself into an essential cog in the Herd's offensive machine.
"Something that (defensive coordinator Chuck) Heater said when I got here that's stuck with me, the game of football rewards guys like Clint Van Horn," Mirabal said. "I'll say he's our best offensive lineman. Flat out, he's our best offensive lineman and he's made himself into that player."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.