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Harlan: Gateway football standout brings name(s) recognition

| Saturday, May 31, 2014, 9:57 p.m.

With two schools in one year and a couple of last names, Gateway's John Horner could appear somewhat hard to find. Yet, college coaches already have their eyes on the soon-to-be senior.

A 6-foot-3 12, 182-pound free safety and wide receiver, Horner received scholarship offers from Akron and James Madison after starring at a camp in Youngstown.

“Since that camp, it's been hectic,” said Horner, who lists Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Syracuse, Temple and Toledo among the schools that recently visited him in Monroeville.

But his recruiting resume isn't as simple as some.

The rising senior played football last fall for short-lived Renaissance Christian Academy, a non-WPIAL-sanctioned team that faced mostly out-of-state opponents. When the school closed mid-year, Horner transferred home to Gateway just before Christmas.

At RCA, Horner played for Muzzy Colosimo, the former coach at Greensburg Central Catholic and current coach at Valley.

“He has all the tools,” Colosimo said. “He's got size. He's got decent speed. He can go up and get the ball. He's not afraid to tackle. Every college that came in to see me asked me about him.”

As a sophomore, Horner played junior varsity at Gateway, where the roster listed him as John McDonald. That remains his legal name, but he prefers Horner, the last name of his stepfather. His father, named McDonald, died when Horner was 4.

“(My stepfather) has taken on that father role,” Horner said.

Recruiters have handled the name switch, even though Colosimo jokes that John McDonald Horner of RCA/Gateway has more identities than a Mafia member. On Twitter, his handle includes McDonald but his profile says Horner. Still, his former coach says he's worth the search.

“He's a good student,” Colosimo said, “and he truly has the potential to be a great football player.”

After earning recognition at the Youngstown passing camp, James Madison assistant Brandon Staley visited Horner, watched him work and offered a scholarship.

“He said my size made me rare, said Horner, who grew about five inches in three years. He'll remind new Gateway coach Tom Nola of the athletes he had in Clairton, Colosimo said. Nola agreed.

“He's really on par with some of those guys, like Titus (Howard) and Terrish (Webb),” said Nola, comparing Horner with two former Clairton stars now at Pitt.

Despite its issues, he still values his time at RCA, which had a school from Detroit and another from Canada on its schedule.

“Going to RCA elevated my game,” Horner said. “Before RCA, I was just a role player going through the motions. RCA showed me what I could really do.”

And, now, everyone can learn who he really is.

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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