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He is proof of the fallibility of Murphy's Law, evidence that size does not necessarily determine athletic ability and testimony to the virtues of hard work and concern for others.
Richie Horner currently leads the Ivy League and the East in pass receptions, having snagged 34 aerials for 576 yards. With two games remaining in his college career, the senior split end ranks fourth on the all-time receiving list for Harvard with 58 catches, trailing Carter Lord, Jim Curry and Pat McInally.
If he continues at his present pace, he will likely graduate as the second leading receiver in Harvard history and will have caught more passes in a single season than anybody since McInally hauled in 56 during the 1973 campaign.
All of this from a 5-ft. 8-in., 150 lb. receiver who was a running back until his junior year in high school and has almost quit football three times in the last six years. At every level, Horner has had to prove himself; he has been successful each time.
"I wasn't going to play high school hall." Horner said before a practice this week. "I thought I was too small, but my father convinced me to try it."
After a year of JV and another as a second stringer. Horner blossomed during his senior year, catching 34 passes and being named to the all-county second team and the all-league team from San Diego's Kearny H.S.
But when he got to Harvard, Horner once again considered giving up football when his playing time on the freshman team was limited to the last few minutes of games.
Size was still the problem. Then-freshman coach Loyal Park had set the squad within a week of the player's arrival, and, probably due to size, Horner did not catch his eye.
But he did get some playing time during scrimmages with the JV and the varsity coaches liked what they saw. Horner was invited to late summer camp the next season.
But he thought about hanging up the cleats. "That's the closest I have come to quitting," Horner says. "My father is the reason I'm still playing. He honestly felt I had the ability to play and wanted me to develop it."
The South House senior attributes his rapid development as a receiver to the coaching he received that year. "My fresh-man year we really had no coach for the receivers. We spent a lot of time practicing blocking with the offensive linemen," Horner recalls. "In all honesty, I wasn't as good a receiver then as I became later."
"When he stepped into the picture, I knew we had something," coach Joe Restic says. "I just can't say enough about Richie. He's one of the easiest people we've ever had to coach."
After a year of understudying to the likes of Jim Curry (68 career receptions). Larry Brown hit Horner's now-familiar number (20) 21 times for 399 yards during the 1978 season.
Finally in his senior year. Horner was given his chance in the limelight. He started slowly, catching only six passes in the first three games from the revolving door--the Harvard quarterback slot. But as the signal-caller situation settled down. Horner got pumped up.
"He knows where the open areas are in a defense. It's instinctive with him," Restic said. "He knows where all the people are on the field all the time. Richie may not be that fast or very big, but he's got quick feet and has made catches that are unbelievable at times."
Horner typically downplays the importance of his skills in his receptions, giving credit instead to the design of the Crimson offense. "One thing that helps is the sets we use," Horner explains. "When you have something like a triple slot, they can't cover all of us."
"In a one-on-one situation," he continues, "the receiver generally has the advantage and the onus is on the defensive back.
The defensive back position is the most difficult on the field." Especially when one has to cover Rich Horner.
But Horner is always focused on the team. When Restic congratulated him at a team meeting for taking the ECAC receiving lead, the Californian responded only with the hope that the team would win its remaining games. "He does it all," Restic said, "and he does it all with class."
Horner, and some of his teammates who belong to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, hold prayer sessions every Saturday morning before games. "The Saturday prayer sessions help me remember that I'm not playing for my own glory." Horner said.
The psych an I soc rel major hopes some day to be an ordained Lutheran minister like his father and feels that religion helps him keep football in perspective.
"Football means a lot," Horner said, "partly because I'm competitive by nature. But it will never be at the top of my list of priorities."
The only time Horner has been visibly upset on the football field was at last Saturday's game at Brown after an official ruled that he had caught a pass out of bounds.
"It was the third time I had been called out of bounds by the same referee. With the combination of that and the wet conditions, I really yelled at the official," Horner says. "I was thinking when I went off the field after that play that I was going to really give it to him after the game, but I cooled off pretty quickly. I think my Christianity is something that helps me do that," he adds.
But the ministry will wait for a few years for Horner who hopes to join the Peace Corps after graduation and go to a Spanish-speaking country, probably in Latin America. "I feel a real desire to break out of the cultural context in which I've lived for so many years," Horner says thoughtfully. "I want to learn about other ways of life and experience them rather than just reading about them." Horner discusses how his studies in psychology conflict with his plans to be a minister in a similar contemplative moment. "They do conflict with one another in some cases. There are some things I don't agree with in psychology. But it as been good for me because it has forced me to re-evaluate things and come to my own conclusions."
Those who know him, meanwhile, have already reached one conclusion: Rich Horner has become one fine receiver against very steep odds.
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