West Shamokin's Horner plays bigger than his frame

Bill West
| Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012

An appreciator of irony, West Shamokin sophomore Zac Horner uses “@SteveKozuchBig” as his Twitter handle.

The alias is a nod to Kozuch, a 2012 West Shamokin graduate and former Wolves lineman who was 6-foot-4, weighed around 200 pounds, and bench-pressed more than 300 pounds. Horner, who is not that tall, heavy or strong, would joke with Kozuch about being able to lift just as much, aware of the claim's absurdity.

“He was obviously the biggest kid in our school,” Horner said. “I wouldn't mind being as big as Steve. I don't think anybody would.”

Maybe a few more pounds or bigger muscles would help. But the truth is Horner does exceptionally well with his current build — 5-8, 165 pounds, according to the roster. A sturdy speedster, he's a fullback-linebacker combo who's looking to build on a breakout freshman season that included 147 carries for 721 yards.

“I feel like this year, I won't shy away from the contact as much because I feel like I'm stronger than I was last year,” said Horner, who added almost 20 pounds of muscle. “I can actually lay the hit this year.”

Horner made sure to sufficiently prepare his body for the punishment he'll endure this season. A year ago, though he made it through without missing a game, Horner considered himself in less than peak condition. The reason? He hadn't anticipated such a demanding role.

Then-junior Blake Copenhaver occupied the first-string fullback spot and seemed ready to serve as West Shamokin's primary run threat. But injuries, especially concussion symptoms, plagued him early and often.

Enter Horner, who rushed for 72 yards on 13 carries in the season opener.

Two games later, he had his first 100-yard performance. The following week, he gained a season-high 163 yards and scored twice.

“I didn't even think I'd play — not at all,” Horner said.

“Blake was supposed to come in and do a lot. Then he got a concussion. … And even after that, I thought once Blake got back, it'd be his spot again. But because I had succeeded, I finished out the rest of the season. It was definitely surprising.”

A powerful line plowed the way for Horner. But two of those blockers, Kozuch included, graduated.

Based on its two scrimmages, West Shamokin adjusted well to its line shuffling.

Senior Andy Stover moved from left tackle, his longtime position, to left guard, where he can better use his athleticism through pull blocks. And Brock Kennedy, Austin Bussard and Austin Reesman stepped up as first-time starters.

Horner aspires to rush for 1,000 yards this year. Stover set his goal for the team total at 2,000 — the Wolves finished with 1,321 in 2011. Faith between ball carriers and blockers is stronger than ever.

“We trust they're going to make the right decisions back there,” Stover said. “We've just got to block and make sure they have enough time to do stuff.”

Others to see carries in West Shamokin's Wing-T scheme include quarterback Alex Lasslo, wingback Andrew Wingard, wingback Matt Johns, and back-up fullbacks Shane Cessna and Ryan Fox. But the big runs and the crunch-time short-yardage situations belong to the guy who wants to be “SteveKozuchBig.”

“He'll be our go-to guy, no doubt,” coach Josh Gilliland said.

“I think he knows if we need a couple of yards, we're going to look to him to get those yards for us.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com or 724-543-1303, Ext. 1321.

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