By Jack Bogaczyk
With apologies to the AT&T wireless commercial series with the really cute kids, bigger isn’t always better.
Ask Marshall offensive tackle Clint Van Horn.
As the Thundering Herd heads into the 2013 football opener — a Miami (Ohio) visit to Edwards Stadium Saturday night — Van Horn has reshaped his body and career by going small.
OK, that’s if you can define 6-feet-4, 294 pounds “small.”
In MU’s August camp, the Beckley native has established himself as the No. 2 right tackle behind fifth-year senior Garrett Scott. The redshirt sophomore did it by losing 30 pounds in three months.
Van Horn was a Class AAA All-State first-team lineman at Woodrow Wilson High in 2010. He joined Coach Doc Holliday’s program after a grayshirt semester that fall. He admitted his road to where he is started back in spring practice of 2011 — but it took two years and an NFL-sized schooling for Van Horn to eventually get it.
“I was a grayshirt, but I came early, paid for my first semester, and went on scholarship in January 2011,” Van Horn said after a recent Herd practice. “When I first got here, my first snaps were on the scout team, against Vinny (Curry, now with the Philadelphia Eagles).
“And that was fun! Well, it was fun to look at, but it taught me. I was really able to see what my coaches expected. He’s as great player, NFL and everything, doing big things now, but I was still expected to block him. When they brought me in, it was to block guys like that.
“When that kind of clicked, it was like, I’m not where I need to be. I know offensive linemen, most of us get redshirted, that’s how they develop us, but I knew to get myself to where I could get on the field I had to do something.
“I think the first time I took that serious was coming out of this past spring. It never really clicked until … I was heavy, I couldn’t move, I wasn’t where my coaches wanted me to be. I wasn’t performing enough to play at this level and I wasn’t taking it as serious as I should have. The first time I did was this summer.”
So, Van Horn decided he needed to be a big loser of sorts — after he saw “326” on the scale midway through spring practice.
“That was the most I ever saw,” Van Horn said. “At the end of spring I was 323. I thought I had a solid spring, but I wasn’t where I wanted to be, wasn’t moving like I wanted to move. Coach (Scott) Sinclair gave us these sheets with meals, diets.
“You get enough calories to burn, but it’s the right stuff for your body with the right energy into your body, getting carbs into your body with things like eggs, pasta, fruits and vegetables, lean beef and protein, different things like that. I didn’t use it specifically, but I based a lot of my diet plan off that.
“I ate four times a day through the summer, and then we were doing team workouts. I would eat lean beef, chicken, low calorie from fat foods, a strict diet.
“I wouldn’t eat after 7 (p.m.), but I had enough calories where I wasn’t starving myself. I was eating enough, still getting full enough to keep good weight, but trim the fat off. And it helped me get stronger, too.”
The backup tackle said Sinclair — the first-year Herd strength and conditioning coach — and his staff made as much difference in his sculpting as the menu change. But Van Horn had to be a willing participant.
“Coach Sinclair really, really helped me,” Van Horn said. “I’ve never had a strength coach where I haven’t had to push myself before, if that makes sense. He was really good. I got faster, I toned up a lot.
“And the weight was melting off. I’ve never lost weight like that before and been able to keep my strength. So, it was all the strength coaches and their workouts they had us do, the speed training. They stuck close, they really helped us on our technique and running.
“I did other stuff by myself. I’d do extra cardio, extra ab workouts, just about every evening, after we had skill development and lifting, I’d go do my own thing on the rec field (next to the Henderson Center) and work on my technique, work on run blocking, pass blocking, anything to trim some more fat off. And when I got here in camp I wouldn’t let my quarterbacks down, my running backs down, my teammates down — and most importantly, my coaches and the team as a whole.”
Van Horn said he started eating some things he hadn’t previously tried or liked.
“I’d never even tried asparagus,” he said. “My girlfriend gets the credit. She made me some and I said, ‘That stuff stinks.’ I’d heard bad stuff about it, and I took a bite of it and started eating it maybe once or twice a week, and then I started liking it and making it as a side, with beef.
“Beets, canned beets, I don’t know what she did with them, but she started putting them in light, fat-free butter and cooked them and served them up hot. They were good.”
Van Horn hasn’t weighed as little as he does now since just before August camp two years ago.
“I came here like that and then I gained a lot of weight,” he said. “They told me to gain weight and then I couldn’t get back down. I was 285 when I came here.
“I got back down to 284 this summer. They actually wanted me to gain weight before this year’s camp — we want you to put 10 pounds on — and I did and I’m just trying to maintain now. I really feel good playing at this weight. It’s also helped my flexibility. I’ve been stretching a lot, and I feel really good.”
After redshirting in 2011, Van Horn played primarily on PAT and field goal units last season. Now, he’s hungry for more — and it sounds like new MU offensive line coach Alex Mirabal is ready to give it to him.
“Clint’s been phenomenal; the weight loss and strength gain has really benefited him from a movement standpoint,” Mirabal said. “Van Horn — knock on wood if something happens to Garrett Scott — I know we can win with Clint now at starting right tackle.
“Of our 20 linemen, he’s had the best camp, came the farthest. He’s completely reconfigured his body and done a tremendous job with his flexibility. He’s a heck of a football player right now, and he’s made himself that way … a self-made guy.”
And Van Horn looks up to his 5-foot-5 line coach.
“Mirabal just expects the most of you,” the tackle said. “Last year in camp we’d have practices where we’d fall off, and we had to get back on. We haven’t had that happen this year. We’ve always been going, going, getting better, fixing things.
“I’ve never had a coach like Mirabal, where he expects the most on every play. He doesn’t like loafing and standing around; he’s always on your tail. If you’re not doing right, you expect the ripping you deserve, and he’s going to get you. I like the way he coaches. It makes us better.”
As much as he took pride in himself and created an opportunity, Van Horn said he’s driven by his roots, too.
“I take pride in being an in-state guy on this team,” he said. “There aren’t many of us. Most of the guys are from the South, most from where there are a ton, a swarm of recruits. Most of these guys played with guys who go to Georgia, Florida, Florida State, and in West Virginia, we’re lucky if we have five guys go Division I in a year in the whole state.
“So, it’s a big thing to me. I’m proud of where I come from, proud of Beckley. I’m proud of the culture. Most of these kids, before they got here, really didn’t know what Marshall was, or was about. I grew up around it. So, I just want to do it big, not just for my teammates, but for the area, and I really love Huntington.
“There are Marshall fans in Beckley, all over the state. I knew everything (about Marshall’s history). I didn’t need to see the (”We Are … Marshall”) movie; I knew what Marshall was. I’m from here. I really take pride in it.”
And now he’s gone green in more than one of his school colors.
— Jack Bogaczyk is a columnist for HerdZone.com.