Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Horton remembers close friends who perished in ‘70

       Back in ’69, Marshall University was in the second year of its far-reaching recruiting campaign designed to help revamp its struggling football program. And there was no doubt that MU had no reservations about recruiting black athletes, which at that time, was highly unusual for predominantly white schools.
       Florzell Horton was part of a contingent from Tuscaloosa, Alabama who came to help turn the program around. The members of this contingent weren’t casual acquaintances. They all grew up together and were teammates at Druid High School in Tuscaloosa. The fellas from Alabama were pretty much inseparable. You could tell that they had a bond that went far beyond growing up in the same home town.
       Horton came in with running back Joe Hood, tight end Freddy Wilson and defensive lineman Robert Van Horn. The year before their arrival, Larry Sanders, also from T’town, established himself as an all-star caliber cornerback on the Thundering Herd’s undefeated freshman in ’68. The ‘Bama contingent also included coach Ken O’Rourke, who served as the head coach for the Herd’s freshman team in ’69.
       Horton expected to contend for playing time on the varsity as a sophomore. But he sufferered a shoulder injury which never healed properly. He left Marshall and returned to Alabama. At that juncture, he thought about playing at Tuskegee University.
       A few months after he came home, Horton was stunned to hear the news that his life-long buddies (Sanders, Hood, Van Horn and Wilson) perished in the November 14, 1970 plane crash that killed seventy-five people. There were no survivors.
        I recently ran across an archive article about Horton that ran several years ago in The Tuscaloosa News. According to the article, Horton rarely says anything about the crash. His wife and children have never heard the full story. The following quote from that feature article says a lot about the great sense of loss  that still remains:
       “After the plane crash, I never played any more sports," Horton said. “I didn’t even watch football for a couple of years after that."
       Even though it’s been over forty-one years since the tragedy, it’s clear that the impact of the crash is still quite profound for those who had a connection to Marshall University and Thundering Herd football.

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