HUNTINGTON — From last spring to this one, Marshall redshirt junior Clint Van Horn has gone from backup to backbone of the Thundering Herd offensive line.
Last April, he was fighting for playing time along the line. This April, after a 2013 season where he was named to Conference USA’s all-conference second team, he is one of two starting linemen still in the spot he occupied at the end of the regular season. Now he’s trying to build upon that success and build cohesiveness among a retooled offensive line.
He has a vocal supporter in Herd offensive line coach Alex Mirabal.
“He’s the best tackle in our conference, in my mind,” Mirabal said. “He only played half the season and the coaches — not the players, not the writers — the coaches named him second-team all-conference after just half a season. And that says a lot to me.”
Mirabal juggled the starting lineup between last year’s Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee games, flipping Garrett Scott from right tackle to left tackle, moving Gage Niemeyer to a backup role, then promoting Van Horn to first string at right tackle. He played 726 snaps, recorded 35 knockdown blocks and was not flagged for a single penalty.
The look of the starting offensive line changed again this spring with the graduation of Scott and guard Alex Schooler. Sebastian Johansson moved from left guard to left tackle. Former backups Michael Selby and Blake Brooks are now the starting guards.
The only starters from last year who stayed in their spots are a pair of all-conference picks — second-teamer Van Horn and first-team center Chris Jasperse.
Now one of the anchors, Van Horn enjoys the trust Marshall coaches are putting into him.
He refuses to stagnate, saying he’s putting in even more work on and off the field.
“I can’t lose a step,” the Beckley native and Woodrow Wilson High graduate said. “I can’t give up any. I’ve got to come harder because you’re never getting better if you’re doing the same thing.
“My big thing is film and preparation, to be more prepared each time and step it up,” he added. “I am that guy now, so I have to step my game up that much more.”
Van Horn gives Mirabal a veteran he knows will hold up his end of the bargain on the right side of the offensive line. As important as that, Van Horn also gives Mirabal peace of mind during the more instructional spring sessions. His comfort in Van Horn allows him more time to help Johansson in his transition from guard to tackle.
It also gives Mirabal an extra on-field instructor. Along with Jasperse, Van Horn has the ability to take younger linemen aside and assist them in the finer points of the position. That way, a less experienced player like redshirt freshman Sandley Jean-Felix can get nearly constant hands-on guidance.
“He’s out here and he’s coaching Sandley the entire time,” Mirabal said. “And I know whatever he’s telling Sandley is the right thing. I don’t worry about him. He’s like a coach out here on the field.”
Van Horn said it’s his pleasure to offer that help.
By being comfortable in his spot, he has the opportunity to help everyone behind him get up to speed. He’s proof that the players outside the starting lineup can be essential to a team’s overall success.
“I don’t want to call myself a specialist, but that’s where I play,” he said. “That’s where I am. I’m not anywhere else. I’m not bouncing around, so that really gives me the opportunity to be hands on with the younger guys behind me.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.