Fresno Native Horn Admires Nebraska’s Academic Emphasis
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Sometime during Nebraska's winter conditioning period in 2008, Rod Horn was in his Sidney (Neb.) office doing what he always does, focusing on his work as general manager for the South Platte Natural Resources District. Fully immersed in his daily grind, he remembers getting an email from a friend describing how Bo Pelini was on the prowl to see if certain players were skipping class.
According to Horn's source, Pelini didn't even think about asking the academic staff to do what he knew needed done. No sir. Bo headed straight to those classrooms himself, and when he discovered players weren't where they were supposed to be, well ... let's just say there were consequences for their actions.
Later, as penalties were getting paid within Bo's rigorous system, word traveled fast again, but those in Nebraska's inner sanctum kept their texts among themselves, so the tweeters wouldn't tell the world.
Understandably, Bo's return to the college classroom had a more captive audience than the ex-Huskers who were clued in. That '08 team soaked it all in, too. Why are we so sure? Because that particular day is now part of Bo's folklore, and he's never felt the need to do something like that again.
Call it "BP 101" - academic culture training for college football players who don't have to guess what's important to a coach who was a three-time All-Academic Big Ten safety at Ohio State.
There's a reason why an entire roster sees a black-and-white world when everyone else wants to paint in some grey. Blackshirts, greyshirts, redshirts and everyone else know Bo means it when he says if a player takes an academic shortcut, he can't trust him to deliver when the game's tight, the band's playing and everyone's looking for leadership.
Pelini's Priorities Paved Road to Success
How does all of this relate so dramatically to Horn, a First-Team Academic All-American in 1979 in 1979? Because the Fresno, Calif., native absolutely loves that story and believes it represents a parallel line between a then first-year head football coach and the old-school philosophy of the traditional power that hired him to restore the order. Horn is convinced Pelini's priorities helped rebuild a program quickly and solidly.
"When I heard that Bo had just come on board and that he stuck his head in the door of several classrooms, I can't tell you how impressed I was," Horn said. "That's when I knew, without any doubt, that Coach Osborne had found the right man for the job. My goodness, what greater appreciation is there than that? I mean, that college diploma is more important than anything else."
It was so important to Horn that even after playing in the 1982 Super Bowl for the Cincinnati Bengals in front of a television audience of 85 million, he told Bengal President Paul Brown that he was ready to use his college diploma and skip the final two years of his contract.
"I felt like it was the right thing to tell him what I wanted to do, so they could prepare for the draft," said Horn, who was splitting playing time with Wilson Whitley at nose tackle.
Horn may be the only healthy man in Super Bowl history to leave two years on an NFL contract to enter the regular work force on his own volition. You have to know him to understand why he was ready to pursue something he always dreamed of doing. First and foremost, he preferred a life of normalcy to the bright lights of the NFL, and for him, money was always a secondary issue, not a primary one.
After working nine months with the Wyoming Game and Fishery Department, Horn continued his quest to become a game warden or a biologist, spending the next three years working for the world-famous Forbes family on their 286,000-acre dude ranch in South Central Colorado. "Oh gosh, that was just an unreal experience," said Horn, who learned the ins and outs of timber, logging, wildlife, water drainage, soil erosion and range management.
Celebrating 25 Years in Wife's Home State
Again, Horn could have kept that job, but he yearned to move back to his wife's home state, so he could parlay his vast and new experiences into a job with the South Platte Natural Resource District, where he has worked 25 years, including 20 as the organization's general manager.
Yes, Rod Horn may be the only healthy man in Super Bowl history to leave two years on an NFL contract to enter the work force, but his gutsy decision has paid off handsomely.
He will forever cherish one of his fondest collegiate memories - upsetting Heisman Billy Sims & Co. and No. 1-ranked Oklahoma, 17-14, in 1978. It was one of many highlights for a proud, pragmatic man who's glad to see that Nebraska has returned to its roots.
"When Bo was making a point with his players so quickly into his job, I couldn't help but think of the guy who hired him," Horn said. "I mean, I knew three years ago that he was laying the same foundation we had in the mid-1970s, and it certainly worked well for us."
Horn, now 54, has vivid memories of his recruitment to Nebraska after his All-America prep career. With no interest in attending USC or UCLA, he narrowed his recruiting trips to BYU, Colorado, Colorado State, Utah State, Washington State and Nebraska.
Despite visiting all six schools, for all practical purposes, Horn's decision was over before it was over because he and his family had infinite trust in the NU assistant recruiting him.
So Many Memories, So Many Role Models
"My whole family fell in love with George Darlington," Horn said. "He picked up right away on the two goals I had - getting a college degree that would help me in a career involving wildlife management or forestry and getting enough exposure to football that I could go as far as possible in college and maybe even in the NFL."
Nebraska wrapped its arms so tightly around Horn that to this day, he stays in touch with his college academic advisor, 94-year-old Howard Wiegers. "I saw him a couple of weeks ago, and he looks great," Horn said.
Wiegers is just one of many critical cogs in the Rod Horn Success Story. "There are so many others," said Horn, who became a First-Team Academic All-American in 1979, a Nebraska Football Hall-of-Fame inductee in 2003, a two-time First-Team All-Big Eight selection, the defensive MVP in the Senior Bowl and a nose tackle that played for the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1982 Super Bowl.
Horn calls himself a product of a fundamentally sound Nebraska system. Strength and conditioning pioneer Boyd Epley was a big part of that system. So were academic trailblazer Ursula Walsh, longtime Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride, trainers George Sullivan and Jerry Weber and everyone who helped Nebraska's 1975 Lifter of the Year understand how proper nutrition can transform a freshman body.
"It all went back to Tom Osborne," Horn said. "He cared about everything, especially education and life after football. I think the culture we're building there now is similar to the environment we had when I was there - very competitive yet unselfish ... honest, open, enthusiastic. The program's structure has been built on that foundation since Bob Devaney. They gave us every opportunity and all the tools in the world to be the best we could be. They recruited us and then motivated us to compete with humility and stay accountable every day."
The Big Question: Why Go Anywhere Else?
Horn grew to love teammates Bill Barnett, David Clark, Odious Lee, Dan Pensick, Henry Waechter and Kerry Weinmaster, even though he competed against all for playing time. "We learned how important it is to be selfless," Horn said, "and I always felt when it came to that, Nebraska was second to none. Whenever I would look at our facilities and the way we did things, I always wondered why anyone would want to go anyplace else."
Thirty-two years later, he feels the same way. The Pelini culture is also built on selflessness, and Nebraska facilities are second to none. Competition is every bit as fierce during the week as it is on Saturdays. Chemistry is strong, and priorities are in order. "I don't know why anyone would go anywhere else," Horn said. "This system has stood the test of time better than anywhere else."
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