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Terrence Horne makes mad dashes into USF history

OCTAVIO JONES | Times USF wide receiver Terrence Horne (80) runs back the kickoff against Georgia Tech at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, September 8, 2018.
Wednesday 12 September 2018 12.54

TAMPA — Forget the posts and digs and wheels. Terrence Horne, still not old enough for a learner's permit, was ready to concentrate exclusively on one route.

A 100-meter streak, down a straightaway. A fleet 14-year-old who was playing organized football in the Miami Gardens area before he could multiply, Horne wanted to concentrate on track.

His dad was having none of it. Terrence Horne Sr. wanted the oldest of his and Vanessa Cotton's three kids to realize his full athletic potential, and the full scholarship that could result.

"Some of these kids, they don't see the big picture with things," the elder Horne said. "We worked some things out, and the rest is history."

Is it ever. Terrence Robert Horne Jr., state track champ from Miramar High, dashed his way into USF lore Saturday against Georgia Tech.

A 5-foot-7, 177-pound freshman, he returned two first-quarter kickoffs for 98- and 97-yard touchdowns, becoming only the 25th player in NCAA history to pull off the feat twice in one contest.

By the time the Yellow Jackets began squib-kicking, USF had a new rock star on its campus: a soft-spoken 18-year-old who devours Chicken McGriddles, loves the Green Bay Packers, and has been known to listen to Beyonce before games.

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"He's got so much respect from our vets, because he doesn't say nothing," Bulls coach Charlie Strong said. "He just smiles. He doesn't say much at all, but just goes about the work."

Related: USF's Terrence Horne earns conference, national honors

The football chops brandished themselves more than a decade ago.

By age 6, Horne was playing for the Scott Lake Raiders, eventually graduating to an undefeated Optimist Club team (Carol City Chiefs) by ninth grade. His youth-level teammates included James Cook (now a Georgia running back), Chandler Jones (Louisville cornerback) and Randy Russell (a Gators safety whose career recently was halted by a heart condition).

None were as fast as Horne who, at his dad's behest, joined Miramar High's football program as a sophomore. Though his diminutive frame caused him to initially struggle against press coverage, he was untouchable in open space.

"It just took one DB to take one bad angle, that was it," Miramar coach A.J. Scott said. "And then everybody would throw their hands up."

Horne says he never previously returned 2 kicks for TD in same game @USFFootball pic.twitter.com/OwPWT1TrUy

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— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) September 8, 2018

When Scott departed for a job at Hollywood McArthur, Horne transferred to nearby Carol City for his junior season. By then, he had evolved into a versatile flanker and jet-sweep threat. With future USF teammates Donelle Thomas and Naytron Culpepper, he helped lead the Chiefs to an 11-3 season and Class 6A state title.

But he was back at Miramar in time for track season, when he ran the 100 in 10.29 seconds — one-tenth of a second shy of a state record — in regionals.

At the 4A state meet, he medaled in four events — finishing second in the 100 and 200 — as the Patriots won the team title. By the following football season, he had evolved into "a grown man" according to Scott, who by then was back at Miramar.

"I've been able to coach a couple of kids like Lamar Miller, who plays for the Texans now," Miramar track coach Christopher McComb said. "Lamar Miller was fast, but Lamar could play football. Terrence is a football player but can compete in track. So I would rate him like that: He's a football player but with world-class track speed."

Horne had five 100-yard receiving games as a senior, totaling 36 catches and 11 touchdowns. By then, college interest for both track and football had streamed in. Oregon and Arizona State were appealing track options. East Carolina, UCF, Pitt and Oregon State wanted him for football.

But the elder Horne said some programs backed off when Horne refused to commit early. Meantime, USF defensive ends coach Damon Cogdell, Miramar's former head coach, stuck around.

"We're at bowl practice (in December), and (Cogdell) comes up to me and says, 'Coach, I need to leave. I've got to go see Horne,'" Strong said.

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"I said, 'Okay, he better be really good.' … You just never knew how fast he was, because we didn't get a chance to see him in the spring to run track. And he comes in here on a visit, and he's a little guy. I said to him, 'You'd better be fast, 'cause you're too little to do anything else.'"

USF signed him in December. Early in preseason camp, Horne made a believer of Strong when he raced past his coverage on a streak route and hauled in a deep Blake Barnett throw.

"It wasn't a move, it wasn't anything, it was just a take-off dead run," Strong said. "And so you kept watching him and he kept making plays like that in practice, and I said, 'We've just got to find a way to give him the ball. Just hand it to him on a reverse play or something, just give him the football.'"

On Saturday, Georgia Tech obliged, and a nation realized what Horne's dad believed all along.

The kid's specialty is 100 yards, not 100 meters.

"We all had a pretty good idea that he had the track speed, but it is very different coming out here on the field and executing," said Barnett, who also tossed a short touchdown pass to Horne in the fourth quarter. "But he's got it. People know who Terrence Horne is now. The kid can roll."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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