How a blowout loss, deafening silence and one promise landed Evan Horn
The greatest athlete across the Lancaster-Lebanon League has found a new home.
Evan Horn will be playing football at New Hampshire next fall.
The Cedar Crest senior verbally committed to UNH last Sunday night, all but closing the door on years of recruitment and speculation as to where the three-sport star would enroll at the next level. The decision, ultimately determined by a handful of factors, was long complicated by a single question: Which sport would Horn would choose to pursue?
Such is the trouble facing a one-time FBS prospect who part-times as a league basketball player of the year and one of Pennsylvania's finest javelin throwers.
Horn's answer, ironically enough, arrived during a rare moment of crushing defeat, when the Falcons were handed a 46-0 loss in the first round of the District 3 playoffs at Exeter on Nov. 13. Football, it appeared, was now gone, and only then did Horn truly know what he had.
"It was that moment right there walking off the field with Coach (Rob) Wildasin, thinking, 'That could be it,'" Horn said. "I just love football. And I hate being embarrassed."
Horn's first opportunity to cement his commitment in writing hits on Feb. 3, otherwise known as National Signing Day. To understand his journey to date is in part to know Horn, as well as the recruiting process itself, which even for those who move with the senior's jaw-dropping ease, is often a winding, bumpy road. For the meritocracy that governs sports on-field does not always rule in the world of fluid rankings, back-door deals and empty promises.
In that realm, even a scholarship offer can become muddied, as Horn came to learn first-hand. But by staying true to the indomitable, no-frills mindset that furnished his legendary career, Horn managed to match himself with a program where those traits are not only honored, but shared.
"They told me they don't want guys who are into new facilities and stuff like that. They want guys who love football and want to get better," said Horn of his new coaches. "I thought that was awesome."
There was one more condition, however, which helped seal his commitment over football offers from Villanova and Army and overtures from Holy Cross and Navy basketball. Facing the graduation of its two starting safeties, the New Hampshire staff decided to release Horn from its requirement that all freshmen must redshirt, thus opening the door for a player who's only ever needed a sliver of space on the field or court to make his way.
"Once they told me that I'll at least have a chance, that's all I wanted," Horn said. "Just to compete, to play my freshman year because I've never really sat out ever in my life. I don't know how I would deal with that."
Horn may never have to find out. Then again, three months ago he happily believed he was ready to sit out the remainder of his recruitment, only to get thrown straight back in.
The telltale sign
The first time the fast-talking, hard-hitting safety can remember any sign of recruitment dates back to his freshman year. A letter had been delivered from the University of Virginia inviting him to its annual football camp, a rather common practice for high-school players who flash signs of potential. Nevertheless, the fact of the Cavaliers' basic interest lay there plainly, printed in black and white, calling his name.
The ninth-grader was ecstatic.
"It didn't mean anything, but at the time I didn't know it," Horn recalled. "I was like, 'Oh, my God!"
His first scholarship offer, on the other hand, drew far less of a reaction. In fact, Horn showed none.
It wasn't until after he had hung up with Bucknell head coach Joe Susan last winter and received a message minutes later from one of Susan's assistants that the news hit him. The assistant had extended sincere congratulations, but for what Horn initially had no clue.
"(Susan) said something about it, but I didn't really think he had offered," Horn laughed. "You'd think they'd be really clear and right to it, like, 'Evan, I offer you a scholarship here."
More than three months later, a similar episode unfolded in person at Temple's camp, where he was accompanied by Wildasin. There, Owls headman Matt Rhule almost grew annoyed at Horn's response after being unknowingly granted a full ride.
"After the camp, he said, 'I think you can play here, Evan. I really want you to be here,'" Horn remembered. "I guess that was his way of offering me a scholarship and I didn't realize it. So I'm just sitting there, nodding my head.
"And he reacts like, 'See the funny thing is, I just offered you a scholarship and you have no reaction to it.'"
Wildasin then stepped in to clear up the miscommunication, explaining that Horn's even-keeled nature, so often a strength, was now getting in his way. As the summer wore on, news of Temple's offer as an FBS school subtly made waves, while Horn's success playing summer basketball at various camps and for his AAU team, the Pennsylvania Rens, did, too.
The mixture of the two developments then created a void of ensuing offers, as FCS schools skirted away at the sign of FBS interest, while certain FBS schools became convinced Horn would stick to basketball. Suddenly, what had been his hallmark, the renowned athletic versatility, was a recruiting weakness.
"I kind of wish I picked a sport from the start, instead of having the football and basketball type thing," Horn admitted.
Meanwhile, Cedar Crest boys basketball coach Tom Smith kept busy by shipping Horn's highlight reel and film of two full games, including a 19-point performance against state champion Roman Catholic, to Division I schools up and down the east coast. Yet the interest that college head coaches affirmed countless times to Smith over the phone and in person rarely translated into immediate scholarship offers, save for Holy Cross and Navy.
Why? The lack of recruiting competition they saw from other basketball programs. To most of them, that's a red flag worth moving on from without any consideration for further investigation.
"He wasn't quite getting the love that I thought he was going to get. But if you don't want a kid like Evan Horn, I'm not sure what you're looking for," Smith said. "I think the telltale sign became when you were in conversation with them and instead of saying no, they just stopped talking."
And that's when Smith's telltale sign cropped up for football.
After wading through his recruiting quiet period and carrying the Falcons through a rough 2-5 opening on the gridiron, Horn believed he was about to establish a commitment to Temple on Thursday, Oct. 22. Upon messaging his primary contact with the program, assistant Marcus Satterfield, now the head coach at Tennessee Tech, Horn was told he'd receive a call over the weekend. The Owls had a game that night at East Carolina.
Friday came. No call.
Upon reaching out again to Satterfield the following Monday, Horn again was met with a deafening silence. Another week then passed, which included a visit to Temple during a nationally-televised showdown against Notre Dame and more calls straight to Rhule. Every one went unreturned.
"It was messed up," Horn said. "And when that happened it kind of hit home. But I'm glad it didn't happen, though, to be honest. I'm really glad I didn't go there because now you can see the type of people they are. I'm real happy with New Hampshire."
Thankfully, still armed with multiple offers in both sports, Horn moved on quickly and paid a visit to a good friend in the Granite State, which helped paved the way to an affirmed college career.
The best and the worst
Spaghetti night with the Horns is a regular occasion, scheduled for every Wednesday night without fail. But this recent pasta dinner was different. Evan sat down to deliver the bad news to his host, the most fervent Navy supporter he knows.
"Grandma," he started, "I have some news."
She paused excitedly.
"I'm going to New Hampshire."
After physically showing some brief disappointment, she congratulated her grandson on his decision. After all, it was a long-awaited, celebratory family moment.
Now, whether received as good, bad or indifferent, Horn has spent much of the past week-plus doing exactly that - sharing the news of his commitment to the Wildcats. He's contacted coaches, family members, friends and every one of his 1,391 followers on Twitter as of Wednesday night.
The commitment was born with a trip nearly two months earlier to New Hampshire, where, accompanied by his dad, Horn visited Nick Miller, a 2015 Cedar Crest graduate, former basketball player and current soccer player at UNH. Horn's first impression, excluding a connection with the Wildcats' coaches, was the appeal of the Durham campus.
"It's a really, really nice campus. It's a mix of a college campus and a city in a way," Horn said. "And I'd like to get out of Pennsylvania. I've never really left, and I really liked it."
Villanova, which also hosted Horn on an official visit, finished as a close second in the recruiting chase, despite its proximity to home. In fact, Horn says he went back and forth in the final weeks between the two, eventually settling with the New England school.
"Great school, great program with really, really solid coaches," Wildasin said of New Hampshire. "We looked at places that could help him reach his goals both academically and athletically. It checked off a lot of boxes."
The final box on that list ought to be relief, as Horn finds himself these days walking around with the "greatest feeling in the world." The recruiting process, constantly pulling his focus in multiple directions, is over. Now he can return to the one-day-at-a-time mantra every great athlete embodies, having been made better by an experience dedicated to a future that has finally arrived.
"You realize most of the time the recruiters don't really mean what they say," Horn said. "But it's a really cool process. It can be the best thing and the worst thing. It was fun. Just glad it's over."
For the record, Horn has not entirely ruled out the possibility of a college hoops career. Bill Herrion, the men's basketball coach at New Hampshire, began recruiting him over the summer, and depending on how training camp unfolds, Horn may accept a football redshirt after all.
"I need to play something," he said. "We'll see how it goes."
If the past is any indication, Horn should be just fine.