Dec. 3, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" Clint Van Horn's right arm is no longer in a sling, but the next stage of his football career remains there.
Marshall's star redshirt senior offensive tackle remains somewhat at a fork in the road of his football days. It's FBS or NFL for him.
After missing all except 10 quarters of the 2015 season due to a pectoral muscle tear and subsequent surgery, Van Horn would like a do-over of his final year with the Herd.
But that's out of his hands.
"I've got to be honest, it's nerve-wracking," Van Horn said Thursday. "It's not fun, but you've got to deal with it. Stuff happens, and either way, I'm going to be playing football at some point in time next fall somewhere.
"I have to rehab and train for whatever will happen, because I need to be in shape and rehabbed regardless. That doesn't change what I'm doing right now."
Not long after Coach Doc Holliday's 9-3 team finishes the season in a bowl later this month, Marshall will file a Hardship Waiver Petition (NCAA Bylaw 12.8.4) with Conference USA for Van Horn to repeat his senior season. That's just a first step for the Beckley resident, however.
Because the two-time All-C-USA right tackle redshirted in 2011, his four-season, five-year eligibility clock is expiring. So, Marshall's compliance staff has to file an Extension of Eligibility Waiver (Bylaw 12.8.6) with the NCAA, showing Van Horn's play was limited by injury in 2011 as well as 2015.
The Herd is asking for the so-called "sixth season" for Van Horn -- which is how redshirt senior linebacker Evan McKelvey played in 2015 after ACL tears curbed his 2012 and 2014 participation.
"Coming back, yes, that's No. 1 right now," Van Horn said. "If I get the sixth year, it's 100 percent, no hesitation, I'm taking it. Just because, one, playing 2 1/2 games your senior season is frustrating after putting in all of the work in the summer, and two, not being out there with your team, helping in the way you want to help. I'm glad I could help the way I could, but I felt I was more useful on the field than I was on the sidelines."
Van Horn, 22, aided Herd offensive line coach Alex Mirabal and a former teammate, graduate assistant Trevor Mendelson, in practices and games with his up-front teammates. If the NCAA doesn't give Van Horn an additional Marshall season, he'll get busy toward a pro future, planning for a possible NFL Combine invitation and the Herd's Pro Day in early March.
He played the first two games this season ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" against Purdue and at Ohio ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" and was injured for the first time in the latter, but finished the game. After missing wins over Norfolk State and Kent State, Van Horn returned for the C-USA opener against Old Dominion.
He lasted less than a half before the pain in his right upper chest became intolerable.
"When it first happened at Ohio, I was pass protecting, strained it in the first half," Van Horn said. "I finished the game, but I was kind of playing with one arm. It was pretty painful, but that's what you do in football -- you play with pain.
"During the game we didn't know just what was wrong, but after the game, the doctors knew right away because there was a bulge at the top of my chest. Then I had treatment for two weeks and came back for the conference opener. You take every game seriously, but conference games are bigger, because if things work out, it gets you an extra game at end of the year.
"I chose that Old Dominion game to come back, and in retrospect probably should have waited another week or two and then maybe I'd still be playing right now. But it was my choice. It happened again right before halftime. I was kind of playing with one arm again and I kind of played that way in practice leading up to the game but I was able to manage it and get away with it.
"I was pass protecting the same way and I was braced up and it still happened. It didn't take much for it to happen that time, and it was a little worse this time and I couldn't finish the game. And I also felt like something more was wrong. It was pretty bad the second time. When I got an MRI, the doctors originally thought there was something wrong with the tendon ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" it was pretty bad under there. They thought it was worse than it really was but regardless, I still wouldn't have been able to play for a very long time."
Van Horn underwent surgery on Nov. 11 and only in the last week has he been out of a sling on his right arm. He is able to cross his fingers, which is a good thing, considering his football life has become something of a coin flip.
"I'd like to get the year back," said the tackle who played only 176 of about 950 offensive snaps this season. "I played 2 1/2 games ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" three is the cutoff (the NCAA rule is 30 percent) ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" and to get a (sixth) year you have to have another year with injuries.
"My freshman year (2011) I came in after battling injuries all the time in high school. There's a laundry list; you have no idea Ã¢â'¬Â¦ My right shoulder was bad and it carried into college. Back then, Dr. (John) Jasko (orthopedic surgeon and one of the Herd team physicians) told me I should get surgery, but I decided to rehab it instead. I hurt it in (August) camp in 2011 and redshirted because I wasn't able to do much because it was worse. So, that was a setback.
"I've written a letter that they'll file and the doctors write letters with all of the medical information and details so we have a case. I feel like I have a good chance, but you never know until things are decided." If Van Horn isn't granted a sixth year ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" Western Kentucky star quarterback Brandon Doughty played this season under the same kind of ruling ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" he'll have the political science degree he earned last winter and move on Ã¢â'¬Â¦ no doubt with a tinge of disappointment.
"Yeah, I have to think about it, going forward," said Van Horn, who has 25 career starts and whose right tackle spot was manned mostly by sophomore AJ Addison and redshirt freshman Fred Binot this season. "As soon as I hear back from the NCAA is when I'll be OK to have like a fresh mindset on what I want to do -- because I'll know. Until then, I've got to plan for both ways."
He's already enrolled for MU classes next semester. Since he earned his degree, he's been taking courses in marketing, engineering and ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" perhaps appropriately ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢'Â¬" sports medicine. "Interesting things," he said.
He's coped with the physical part. Now, Van Horn is trying to deal with the mental side of his football uncertainty.
"It was pretty tough," he said. "There were some times when I was really feeling sorry for myself, definitely. I had some pity parties early on, but because of what Coach Mirabal teaches, about toughness, about 'the good of the room,' and 'next man up.' There are going to be injuries in football Ã¢â'¬Â¦ That's just football. I'm sure you could find it at 60-70 percent of the teams in college and the NFL.
"It's just the nature of the game, and watching Coach Mirabal and his leadership, the way he carries himself -- the way he expects us to carry ourselves -- I think that made things easier for me. I got to spend a lot of time with him and had time to pay attention to other aspects of his coaching style than I did as a player. I was able to watch how he dealt with players, pay attention more to things I wouldn't have paid attention to if I was playing."
Van Horn also liked what he saw from his young replacements.
"I think they did a heckuva job," the Herd veteran said. "I think Fred played extremely physical and he grew more than I think anybody thought he would at the beginning of the season. AJ did a really good job -- a huge job -- fixing his technique. If you look at the first game he was in there compared to the end of the season, his technique and his confidence changed tremendously.
"They're both going to be really good players. I think for both players and for the team it was a blessing in disguise. I know I got hurt, but it was good for them to get in there and play because in the future they're going to be playing a lot of football, regardless of whether it's right tackle, left tackle."
Meanwhile, Van Horn can't do much except try to tackle the uncertainty.