Thanksgiving preview: VanHorn leads Judge on, off field

Mike VanHorn led the Catholic League Red Division in rushing. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Mike VanHorn never shies away from responsibility.

VanHorn is a senior at Father Judge High School. He’s not only the starting quarterback for the Crusaders, but he’s also one of the team captains and the leader of the offense, along with senior lineman Braedon Hart. 

But beyond being one of the leaders of the football team, he’s one of the leaders of the school. VanHorn is the student council class president. He used the leadership, and the other things he does in football, as part of the campaign.

“We made posters and put them around the school,” VanHorn said. “I put ‘vote QB 1 for pres.’ I like being a leader, I guess. I feel like it’s something I do pretty well. I’m kind of quiet, but I feel like I connect with everyone, not just the football team.”

VanHorn has had a fantastic season this year connecting with his receivers, while also providing the Crusaders with one of the toughest runners in the Catholic League. In fact, he led the Catholic League Red Division in rushing, and he did it by running away from people and running through people.

He certainly wasn’t your average quarterback. All football players are tough but there are few runners as punishing as VanHorn.

“I’m an improviser, I try to make things happen,” said VanHorn, who has guided the Crusaders to a 1-3 record in Red Division play, and a 6-4 overall mark. “I try to give the team a good chance to win when we touch the field. I like running a lot. I started in sixth grade being a quarterback. I played running back, so that’s where I get the running. Our quarterback left (Liberty Bell) and we needed someone. They picked me, so I started to train and stuff and ever since then, I’ve been a quarterback.

“I love it. I love playing quarterback. Our skilled guys are really good. Good running backs, too. It’s a pretty young team, we have three senior linemen and another receiver, the rest are younger.”

VanHorn loves playing for the Crusaders, and he’ll look to go out in style on Thanksgiving when he leads Judge into its annual game at Lincoln in the battle between the Mayfair area’s finest. 

Judge has dominated the series against the Railsplitters, last losing in 1989. There was no game last year because both teams played during the spring season, and in 2019, Lincoln fell just short of pulling off the upset.

This one should be a goodie, too. Lincoln had a great season. The Railsplitters’ first loss on the field came in the second round of the playoffs when they fell to Northeast. 

One potential problem is the game might not be played because the Crusaders will meet Imhotep Charter in the Class 5A District 12 championship game on Saturday. A win over the Panthers would put Judge in the state playoffs the weekend after Thanksgiving, so if that happens, the game will likely be canceled. But as long as it’s on the schedule, VanHorn and his teammates will do anything they can to beat their rivals.

This has been a much better season for VanHorn, who spent the bulk of the spring watching from the sidelines instead of calling signals.

“I got hurt in our first game, I broke my wrist against Chichester,” VanHorn recalled. “I was running the ball, went to stiff arm a guy and landed weird. My throwing hand. I knew right away,

“I couldn’t grip the ball. I tried throwing the next play and threw a duck, a really bad ball. I stayed in until the end of the drive, but I told coach I couldn’t throw it. Then they took me out.

“I still went to practice and stuff. It was a little easier because it was a shortened season, and I came back for the last game against West Catholic. We won, I feel like I did well, so it was nice to go out that way.”

He hopes he can walk off the final time as a Crusader with a win. 

But he certainly put Judge in position to be good long after he leaves. Next year he hopes to play football in college, and the things he taught his younger teammates should pay dividends for the Crusaders while he’s playing college ball. Just as he is a leader in the classroom as president, he’s a captain of the football team.

“The captains are me and Braedon, we did a voting process and they picked us,” VanHorn said. “I was honored because everyone wants to be the captain. It’s a responsibility, but one I really like to have. Both being a captain and student council president are important.

“We had a great year this year, and I think it’s because of the chemistry this team has. Everyone likes being around each other. We’re tough kids, we’re not always the biggest, we might play teams with more size, but we go right up against them and we try to tough it out in the end.”

With football coming to an end, VanHorn will stay busy. On top of his responsibilities that come along with being president, he’s juggling a tough course load that includes classes he takes each day at Holy Family University as part of the Diocesan Scholar program.

The classes are not only helping him knock out some credits before he gets to college, but on deciding what he wants to study when he’s officially a college student.

“At Holy Family, I take a business and sociology class,” said VanHorn, who ranks in the top 20 in his senior class. “I really like the business class. It teaches me how the world of business works, dealings and things like that. 

“I plan to play football in college. I’ll play whatever position. I love to play quarterback, but I’ll play anywhere. Maybe running back, safety on defense sounds fun. I can play anywhere.”