Valley's Best Athlete? Maybe Lee's Horne
That's What His New College Coach Says
Posted: December 6, 2012
HARRISONBURG – R.E. Lee High School senior Dylan Horne isn’t just a good baseball player.
“In my opinion, he may be the best athlete in the Valley,” James Madison University baseball coach Spanky McFarland said this week after Horne signed a letter of intent to play for the Dukes.
JMU was so impressed with Horne, a left-handed pitcher, that it signed him even though he had Tommy John surgery in May. Why? In part because he’s not only a college-level pitcher – he’s a prospect even just as a hitter and outfielder.
What makes him an exceptional athlete beyond baseball?
In football, a few Division I-AA colleges – including James Madison – were interested in Horne playing linebacker, even though his best high school position was quarterback. He also punted, returned kicks and played receiver for the Leemen. After his surgery, he even taught himself to throw a football right-handed in an attempt to return to QB (although he never threw in a game).
In basketball, he’s a lockdown defender who can play all five positions and dunk with each hand.
He’s big (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) and reasonably fast: 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
According to Horne, he’s a heck of a snowboarder – “I’m not a trick master, but I can slide down the mountain,” Horne said.
So what does he think about being called the best athlete in the Valley?
“I’d say as an all-around athlete, I would agree with that,” Horne said. “…[I’m] not doubting anybody or doubting anybody’s skills. I’m sure a lot of people would agree with that. Yes, I do agree.”
Horne had Tommy John surgery – the name used for an elbow-reconstruction procedure especially common to pitchers – on his left arm shortly before the 2012 high school baseball season ended. He said he’d had trouble with his elbow since middle school, but that it especially flared up in February just before the season started.
He played for the Leemen most of last season, never pitching and playing almost exclusively as a designated hitter – he hit .412 with four home runs, 26 RBIs, 24 runs scored and 19 stolen bases in 14 games.
But with about 2½ weeks left in the season, there was an opening for Horne to have the surgery. Even as Lee was making a playoff push, coach George Laase advised Horne to shut down.
“He [Horne] said, ‘Well, why don’t we wait until the end of the season?’ And I said, ‘Dylan, if you hold it off and you wait and wait, buddy, you’re going to hurt yourself with some of the recruiting process,”’ Laase said.
At that point, Horne said, he was already concerned about his recruiting status. Obviously, recruiters knew about his skills by then — Virginia Tech and Radford were also interested, he said. But he wasn’t so prized as to have Stephen Strasburg-like hype over his recovery.
“I didn’t really know what to expect or what to do,” Horne said of his post-operation recruiting plan. “I was just kind of hoping I’d heal up like I’d supposed to.”
He flirted with the idea of being a college football player – he was honorable-mention all-state as a junior, and Lee football coach David Tibbs said JMU had “significant” interest in Horne – but he’d always liked baseball best, and his heart remained set on pursuing baseball in college. McFarland stuck with Horne despite the surgery, offering him late in the summer even though he had just started throwing again. Horne immediately accepted – it was the first offer he got.
“First, it’s Tommy John, so that particular surgery, there’s a really high success rate on that,” McFarland said, explaining why he pulled the trigger on offering Horne. “If it was a shoulder, that’d have been a different story – or something else – but it was Tommy John.”
Now, the question is how quickly he’ll recover. Horne said he’s already throwing a baseball about 50-60 times per day as part of his rehab.
Laase said Horne “probably” won’t pitch in the spring – there’s a chance he’d be able to, but “we’re not going to push him to the limits,” Laase said — and McFarland is prepared for Horne to need some more time in college to recover before he tries him on the mound.
Horne could start his college career in the outfield, and McFarland said he could certainly contribute from there, too. Laase called Horne “a five-tool player,” meaning he is excellent at all five of baseball’s main skills: hitting for average, hitting for power, throwing, fielding and base running.
“If for some reason he doesn’t get his velocity back or something and we don’t use him on the mound, he’s still a heck of an outfielder,” McFarland said. “…I think he has the abilities and the intangibles to put himself in position to play a lot as a freshman.”
Horne, after all, is quite an athlete – and relishes being called the best in the area.
“That’s awesome,” he said. “It makes me think about all the hard work I’ve put in over the years in all three sports, never having a break.”