BY JEFF FALK
SOUTH LEBANON – Evan Horn’s headed down a path. It’s a treacherous path. It’s one you and I have never imagined navigating, much less dreamt of.
But it is a path that Tom Gerhart has been down. And that makes him uniquely qualified to guide, support and mentor his accidental protege.
It’st he type of relationship that surfaces only once in a great while in scholastic sports, but one that seems to accentuate all that’s positive about them.
While trying to help the Cedar Crest football team win as many games as it can this fall, Horn is mulling the most important decision of his 17 years – whether to play football or basketball or both in college. A former Division One and professional football player himself, Gerhart’s advice is free, sound and readily available, but never forced.
“He’s the man,” said Horn of his defensive coordinator. “He’s a character. He knows when to joke around and when not to. That’s what I like about him. He knows a lot about football, and he makes me intelligent.
“I think the thing he has helped me with most is the understanding of the game. My smarts,” continued Horn. “You can be a lot of things, but if you’re not smart, you’re not going to be any good at all. He taught me every step matters. It’s really about time. One step can be the difference between giving up a touchdown or not. It’s about perfecting your craft.”
“I don’t know,” said Gerhart, when asked if his football background lends more credence to his coaching message. “That would be a question to ask Evan, or other players. Playing for a long time, there’s a lot of things you can pass on. If it works for them, they’re ready to learn more. Playing helps you become a pretty good coach, but you don’t have to be an ex-player to be a good coach.
“I’ve coached a couple of years, and played an awful lot,” added Gerhart. “The amazing part is talking defense with Evan. I find it easier with him than kids at the college level. He gets it. It feels like we’re on the same page all the time.”
His decision on where to go to college seems to be on the minds of everyone Horn knows, but may weigh more heavily on his.
The 6-1, 190-pound senior safety/linebacker/slotback has a football scholarship offer from Bucknell, and a basketball athletic grant-in-aid from Holy Cross on the table. Saint Joe’s and the Naval Academy have also expressed interest in Horn as a basketball player, while William and Mary and Richmond like him as a football player.
But his most intriguing offer has come from Temple, which would consider allowing him to pursue both football and basketball.
“I get that question pretty often,” said Horn, whose exploits on the hardwood are well documented. “Everybody is asking. I say, ‘If you ask me now it’s football, because it’s football season. If you ask me four months from now when it’s basketball season, it would be basketball.’
“I want to wait and see how the (football) season goes,” Horn continued. “I’m not quite sure how it’s going to happen. But it’s definitely enjoyable. It’s nice to be wanted. It’s a great problem to have. I have choices to make.”
“Just from talking to Evan, my take is he should try both. He wants to, but I’m not quite sure he can decide.” said Gerhart. “I think he can do both. If you asked me if he could play football on the next level, I think that yes he could. If you asked me if I thought he could play offense on the next level, I think that yes he could. I do think it’s up to him, and that he should enjoy it as much as he can. I think time is a big factor, but he’s almost doing the same thing now. Obviously I’m biased. I think in football, you have more kids on the field. In basketball, there’s only five on the court. I think football gives him more opportunities.
“I think he could play either defense or offense in college.I don’t know how many kids at this level can go up for a ball like he can,” Gerhart added. “He’s got great hands. Offensively, he’s a great weapon. In many programs, he could excel as a slotback. But those same attributes make him a great defender. Great players always seem to be in the right place at the right time, and Evan prepares himself. When you have someone who’s gifted and works hard, they find a place on either side of the football. But I think to play defense on the next level, you’ve got to have a little more. If I had to flip a coin, I think it would land on the defensive side.”
Gerhart knows what he’s talking about, which is something Horn respects.
A graduate of Cedar Crest, and himself a former safety, Gerhart matriculated to Division One Ohio University. Through hard work, a cerebral approach to the game and determination, Gerhart turned himself into a Canadian Football League champion and a one-time Philadelphia Eagle.
“He’s talked to me about it, from time to time,” said Horn of Gerhart’s professional experiences some 20 years ago. “That’s awesome to know. I think it does give his words a little more weight, knowing that the guy’s been there. When he tells you to do something, I want to listen. Everything he says has meaning.”
“I think he is aware of it to some extent,” said Gerhart of Horn. “I think he knows I spent some time in Philly and abroad. But I don’t talk about it.
“If there’s one thing I see of myself in Evan, it’s the approach, the ability to be a student of the game and to know what everyone around you is doing,” continued Gerhart. “I think he is way ahead of the game. You can’t take away from the physical side of it, and he does that very well. It’s a great combination. As a high school coach, I’m always on kids about the mental approach to the game. If you can line up in the right place, it becomes a little easier and you get better at the end of the day. Evan’s as grounded as anyone, and there I think we have something in common. I don’t think Evan thinks he’s better than anyone. It’s one thing I really like about him.”
Being on the same wave length certainly makes Horn and Gerhart’s on-field interactions more effective.
As the Falcons’ defensive coordinator, Gerhart signals calls on to the field. And while Horn isn’t necessarily the player who relays the calls to teammates, he may be the one who understands what Gerhart wants most
“He calls the play and I check off that,” said Horn. “I have some freedom off of it. I can make checks, and do what I want to do.
“I’m kind of a cross between a linebacker and a safety,” Horn added. “But you’ve got to know all the positions. If you know all the positions, then you know where everyone is supposed to be, and you can play off that.”
“I will make the call and give it to the kids,” said Gerhart. “But we do adjust. We do make checks. It’s not easy. They (the players) do have to be focused. There’s no doubt that Evan is the leader in that. He’ll set the defense, for the most part.
“I would say he is a pretty good-sized safety playing outside linebacker,” Gerhart continued. “It gives us the ability to put him all over the field, in a lot of positions. It’s what’s best for our defense. It’s kind of a hybrid type of position. He can be up tight against the run. Or he might be covering the other team’s top receiver.”
And Horn has positioned himself to place the finishing touches on an outstanding scholastic career.
To date, he already has two Lancaster-Lebanon League and Section One championships in basketball to his credit, as well as a state medal for javelin-throwing proficiency. Actually, the only place Horn hasn’t experienced overwhelming success – at least from a team stand point – is the gridiron, where Cedar Crest has gone a combined 8-22 over the past three seasons.
“I’d obviously like to have a lot more wins in football,” said Horn. “We’d like to get more wins this year, but we’ll see how it goes. I think the problem has been experience. We’ve had a lot of first-year starters. But that’s one thing we have this year, experience.
“The thing I’m most proud of is the whole basketball thing, winning the section and league twice,” added Horn. “I set three goals for myself for my senior year. I want to win the district championship in basketball. The third time’s a charm. I’d like to win a state championship in track and field. And I’d like to make districts (playoffs) in football.”
“When I think of Evan and basketball, the first thing that comes to mind is ‘domination’,” said Gerhart. “He’s such a weapon, and plays offense and defense very well. When the game is on the line, you want Evan to have the ball. You want him to make that last decision. He’s a lot of fun to watch. He’s a very, very good basketball player.
“Evan’s not a vocal leader, but he is a leader,” added Gerhart. “He gets, not only himself, but everyone around him in the right place. Evan is a great kid and everyone likes him. And that helps him because kids follow him. He’s like a quarterback on defense. He is certainly the leader of that bunch. He has the ability to make checks on the fly, which is what they do on the next level.”
Horn is also a very good student. He sports a 3.8 GPA, while taking classes that include some honors courses.
“When I was younger, I hated football,” said Horn. “I didn’t like getting hit. I was always the smallest guy. But then in the seventh and eighth grades I got bigger, and I could hit other guys. Baseball was my best sport, but I gave it up for track and field.”
“He seems to have a knack for making plays,” Gerhart said. “He continues to do that. You’re not really surprised that he makes plays. He works really hard. He’s a competitor. He’s very serious, but he seems to be able to have fun, and he knows how to keep them separate. To match that, he has great athletic ability, and he works at that too. He has all the attributes of a great football player and a great basketball player.
“He does possess all the physical attributes,” Gerhart concluded. “But I don’t think he’s the best in any of them. We have kids who are faster. We have kids who are bigger. We have kids who are stronger. He was gifted with the ability to be a competitor. He is big enough, fast enough and strong enough to play at any level.”
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