TAMPA ― The most inspiring return of Terrence Horne’s career seemed on schedule.
All the preseason sound bites and observations indicated USF’s 5-foot-7 speed merchant was nearly back to breakneck form less than a year after tearing his right ACL in a practice.
In mid July, coach Charlie Strong said Horne was fine physically, only needing that “first lick” in full contact to reassure himself. A month later, fellow returner Bentlee Sanders said Horne wasn’t quite all the way back, “but he’s definitely getting there.”
Then, when the Bulls took the field Friday against Wisconsin, Horne was in full pads. Full-go couldn’t be far behind.
Or could it?
The guy who mesmerized a national TV audience and dashed his way into history with consecutive kick-return touchdowns (of 98 and 97 yards) last season against Georgia Tech didn’t line up as a returner against the Badgers.
“I think that once we feel more confident and he feels more confident, then we will put him back there,” Strong said.
With that, a potential prevailing story line for Saturday’s rematch against the Yellow Jackets seemed to deflate. Barring a surprise, Horne isn’t likely to be afforded the chance to produce a sequel to last year’s surreal performance.
But he may not be relegated to a cameo either.
“The other night (against Wisconsin) I don’t think he got a ball,” Strong said. “But he’ll play a major role in this game.”
The Class 4A state runnerup in the 100 and 200 meters at Miramar High in 2017, Horne became only the 25th player in NCAA history to return two kicks for touchdowns in the same game last September.
Widely forgotten is the fact he also had a 3-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, when USF rallied from a 10-point deficit for a 49-38 triumph.
Less than two weeks later, his season was over.
“We were just out there (at practice) on a drill, and that happens a lot, where a guy is out in a drill and there’s no one even near him and he just lands wrong,” Strong said.
“But it hurt us just because of the speed that he brought to the team, and us getting those yards because people would’ve started kicking the ball either out of bounds or they wouldn’t have kicked it down there at all.”
Because he played in only three games, Horne’s redshirt season was preserved. During the sliver of preseason camp open to reporters, Horne was in full pads, albeit in a non-contact jersey typically reserved for quarterbacks.
Friday against Wisconsin, he lined up for a few plays as a receiver. He wasn’t made available to reporters this week, and he appears nowhere on USF’s Game Two depth chart.
On Monday, Strong suggested he remains apprehensive about allowing Horne to resume kick returning because “the return game is where you get those big hits.” But he also said the Bulls must find a way to get the ball in his hands and utilize his fleetness.
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Decipher that as you will. Maybe it’s all a tease. Or a trailer for Terrence Horne Part II.
“I think that he’s gonna get back,” Strong said. “He’s not back 100 percent yet, but he’ll get there eventually.”
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.