|Jake Horner. Shawnee Dispatch.|
In his first varsity game as a sophomore, Jake Horner collected 146 return yards and two touchdowns. His first score was a 95-yard kick return to start the second half.
Defensively, he made a fumble recovery that led to a SM Northwest lead and set the tone for his team. His six touchdowns that season made him a big contributor to Aaron Barnett’s 2011 squad. You could say that he’s had play making ability from his early time on varsity.
Fast forward two years later to his senior season, and Horner has been named the starting quarterback for the Cougars. After a dismal 2-7 campaign under first year head coach Linn Hibbs, the Cougars turned to Horner to fill the void at the most important position for the upcoming season.
“[Hibbs] said that we needed a quarterback and asked if I would be interested,” Horner said of the process of acquiring his new role. “I said of course, and then he told me his plans for the offense. After we spoke, I was really excited about it.”
Last year Horner led the team with 32 catches for 301 yards at wide receiver. Although he’s started on both offense and defense for the past two seasons, he has no prior experience as a quarterback. The transition has been difficult for him so far.
“The toughest thing for me was learning to throw,” he said. “I’m new at the position and I haven’t played baseball since eighth grade, so obviously I don’t have a very good arm. It’s gotten way better, but the toughest transition was working on my throwing.”
Horner's inexperience will make it a challenge playing the position in such a competitive league, but he thrives on the pressure associated with being a quarterback. He's ready to take the hits, however what worries him the most is the prospect of letting his team down.
“My biggest fear is messing up and making a decision that really hurts the team,” he said. “I’m not scared of my body getting hurt. I’m more scared about hurting everyone else on the team.”
As the quarterback and a senior with plenty of varsity experience, Horner will be expected to be a leader on the squad. He doesn’t plan to take his role lightly.
“I demand perfection,” he said. “I understand you can’t expect perfection, but I won’t let a mistake go unnoticed. If we have a guy messing up, I’m not afraid to tell him that he has to pick it up.”
Horner is well known for his athletic ability. Along with his two seasons of varsity experience as a football player, he’s also earned multiple varsity letters in both basketball and track. He says that his cross-training has helped him on the field.
“I think it’s helped my general athleticism,” he said. “One sport athletes works the same group of muscles. You can become a well-rounded athlete if you play a bunch of different sports.”
What is most impressive about him is his speed. At a combine at Kansas State this summer he set the record among invitees for the shuttle-run with a time of 3.87 seconds. He’s used this quickness throughout his football career to elude defenders and make his way to the end zone.
“My speed is more natural,” he said. “I definitely work on it, but running has just always come pretty natural to me.”
Coach Hibbs will be utilizing Horner’s athletic abilities in numerous ways. Not only will he be the starting quarterback, he will also be starting at defensive back and will return both kicks and punts. But according to Horner, his multitude of roles won’t wear him down physically.
“I’ve done that my whole life,” he said. “Sophomore year and junior year, I started on both offense and defense. If I need a break, then they just won’t play me on defense. I won’t get fatigued.”
This season, he says that the Cougars will have a much different offensive look. Horner will have many opportunities to run the ball. He also estimated that the Cougars will run an average of 15 to 20 passing plays a game, using multiple backfield formations.
Horner feels confident in his team’s ability, most importantly with the line that is in charge with protecting him.
“I have a lot of confidence in my line,” he said. “Logan Miller is definitely stepping up. We also have a transfer named T.J. Hutton. He was a 4A State Champion wrestler last year and he’s only a junior. Most of these kids are players that I’ve played with my whole life. I trust them.”
The most important thing to him is that they need to change their mindset as a team. Their failures from last season aren't anything that he wants to repeat. And that's something that he says is already underway to being accomplished.
“I wouldn’t blame last season on Coach Hibbs,” he said. “The seniors accepted mediocrity. The mindset is so much different than last year. It’s much more of a need to win, rather than a want to win. Everyone is committed.”
With Horner leading the way, the Cougars look set to improve on their record from last season. After all, we can’t forget that Shawnee Mission Northwest football has a winning tradition, and a league title as recently as 2007.
“I just think that we’ve had a past of winning. Growing up, we won league championships consistently. This class understands what it takes to win.”
Johnny Carver, email@example.com