BY JEFF FALK
COLLEGE PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOEY WALKER AND THE UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
No one plays two Division One college sports, at the same time. No one.
But do you know what else no one also does? No one tells Evan Horn what he can or can’t do.
It just makes him want to do it more.
Horn, a 2016 graduate of Cedar Crest, is attempting the improbable, the near impossible. Already on scholarship to play football at University of New Hampshire, Horn has walked on to the Wildcats’ Division One men’s basketball team.
It is a feat rarely, if ever, attempted by a student-athlete from Lebanon County at a Division One university. It speaks to Horn’s nature, character and competitive spirit.
“It’s (a love for basketball) just being out there on the court,” said Horn, Sunday during a phone interview from Durham, New Hampshire. “It’s a team sport. It’s wanting to win. It’s hard to explain. It’s (basketball) something I’ve done since I was little.
“Actually, it started when I was being recruited,” continued Horn. “As time went on, I was missing basketball. In October or November, I went into (football) Coach (Sean) McDonnell’s office and asked him, “What are my options?’. I didn’t want to look back in ten years and have regrets about my college years.”
“It’s very unusual,” said University of New Hampshire Men’s Basketball Coach Bill Herrion, of a student-athlete playing two Division One college sports. “It’s my 27th year as a Division One head coach, and I’ve only had one other player do it.
“The way he looks to me, he’s a really nature athlete,” continued Herrion.”He’s picked up things extremely quickly. I don’t know his high school coach personally, but he’s been well-coached. This is hard. The week-and-a-half of practice he’s been with us, you’d think he’s been with us for two months.”
Some of Horn’s decision to play basketball was based on timing and opportunity. Herrion and McDonnell are close friends, the Wildcats had an obvious need at the position Horn plays – guard – and New Hampshire got off to a 4-11 start to the season.
But that is not to say that Horn’s desire to play hoops should be underestimated.
“I think he actually thought I was quitting football,” said Horn of his meeting with McDonnell. “But it wasn’t the situation. He’s friends with the basketball coach. He knows I like basketball. I’ve only been there for a week-and-a-half. I want to do whatever I can to keep competitive and help the team win.
“Last year was definitely the hardest,” added Horn. “I red-shirted (during football) and I had no type of competition at all.”
“He’s been practicing with us for about ten days,” said Herrion. “We need some help at the guard position. We only had one healthy point guard in the program. We think he’s someone who can help us.
“We know some Division Two and Three coaches in your area,” Herrion continued, “and everyone has said he’s a really good player. Tough as nails and really competitive. I think he can bring toughness on the defensive end. What we’re looking for is competitiveness, and we think he can bring that to us.”
Horn’s debut with the basketball team was delayed somewhat by the New Hampshire football squad’s run in the Division One FCS playoffs, and by a minor hand injury. Horn dressed for the Wildats’ road contest at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County on January 3rd, and saw 11 minutes of action during a 64-61 home win over Albany on January 6th.
In his first action, Horn had two points, five rebounds and an assist off the bench.
“I have to feel it out,” said Horn. “If I’m a month or a month-and-a-half into it and don’t get a lot of playing time, I want to know I tried it. I’m here for football. I’d say, ‘Thanks for the opportunity’, and get back to football. If I’m just practicing and sitting on the bench, there are other things I could be doing.
“Right now, I’m on the basketball team,” continued Horn. “None of the guys from football aren’t here (on campus). I’m not really missing much. I’m pretty motivated to do it.”
“Everything we do is evaluated in practice,” said Herrion. “If they earn it, we’ll play them. Because of injuries, we only have one true point guard in the program. We’ve been playing him at point guard.
“He said he was thinking about doing this during the football season,” added Herrion. “I explained that it was not going to be easy, that he was going to be behind the other players.”
While at Cedar Crest, Horn was an extremely accomplished performer for the Falcons, both on the gridiron and on the hardwoods. He received a number of Division One offers for each, but little interest for both.
Some believe Horn to be the best basketball player Cedar Crest has ever produced, and he was the key cog during the most successful period in Falcon boys’ basketball history.
“I definitely missed it a lot,” said Horn. “Last year, I was going to Cedar Crest games and watching my brother Logan play. I had to be real with the importance of my feelings.
“As far as my decision in high school goes, I wanted to play basketball,” Horn added. “The situation was the schools I was looking at for basketball weren’t the schools I wanted to go to for academics. The football schools suited me better academically.”
“When he came here for football, we were aware of him playing basketball in high school,” said Herrion. “We knew he was a very good high school basketball player. In late September or early October, his high school basketball coach (Tom Smith) reached out to us. He said that Evan might have an interest in playing basketball and what were our thoughts.
“The football coach (McDonnell) and I go back almost 30 years and we’re almost best friends,” Herrion continued. “Our agreement was that Evan was going to finish the football season and we were going to let Evan come out and give it a shot. After the Christmas break, Evan came back to school and joined our team. Our football team had so much success in the fall that we didn’t get him until late.”
It should be noted that what Horn is attempting is very experimental. He is playing basketball at an extremely high level, higher than he has ever come close to playing before.
But if it goes well, this so-called ‘two-sport’ experiment could be something that takes on a life of its own.
“It is a thought of mine,” said Horn, of competing for the Wildcats in both sports over the next three years. “Of course, if it works out. If I can stay healthy and am allowed to do both, why not? You only get a chance to do this once.”
“That’s way too early to tell,” said Herrion. “Our approach has been: ‘If you want to give this a shot, you can.’ He’s here on a football scholarship. We know that anything he can bring to our program is a bonus. I think he has to see how it goes.”
So it would seem that Horn is a football player playing basketball. That doesn’t figure to change.
During the fall, as a red-shirt freshman, Horn flashed signs of the kind of college football player he can become, while New Hampshire was going 9-5. A safety who earned more and more playing time as the season went on, Horn finished with 42 total tackles – 23 solo and three for loss – six pass break-ups and three interceptions, one of which was a pick-six.
“It went well,” said Horn, a business administration major. “We had a big upset win over Central Arkansas (in the postseason). We have a lot of guys coming back so I’m excited for next year.
“I did OK,” continued Horn. “I had pretty good stats. As the year went on, I got more comfortable. But there’s a lot of things I can get better at, like becoming a consistent tackler.”
“He’s coming off 14 games in football, but he seems in very good health,” said Herrion of Horn. “I think he has a 3.4 grade-point-average. He’s a sharp kid. He’s got a really good head on his shoulders.”