Football: Horst overcomes scary medical matters to lead UL line
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 19, 2017
When UL headed back to his hometown area to play South Alabama in 2015, Grant Horst — as much as he would have loved it — could not play.
The big Ragin’ Cajuns offensive lineman was sidelined by a concussion.
So when Horst started feeling unusually dizzy last season, so much so he again could not practice or play, he wondered if it was the worst.
Had he sustained another concussion?
Especially in light of all that implies these days, Horst thinks about it now and understandably concedes concern.
According to a study led by researchers at Boston University and the VA Boston Healthcare System and published last month in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was diagnosed in 87 percent of 202 former football players.
“It is scary,” Horst said, “because you hear about these stories and stuff like that.”
As it turns out, Horst — who missed two games last season, one a loss at Tulane in late September and the other a win at Georgia Southern in November — had not experienced another concussion.
But for what seemed like the longest time, he wasn’t sure what it was that kept him from standing straight.
Ultimately, it was determined the cause was vertigo-like symptoms stemming from a severe sinus infection and an apparent inner-ear infection.
“It was definitely different, because we, they, just didn’t know what was going on,” Horst said. “I would just be dizzy. But I’d do fine on all the concussion tests.
“So it was kind of scary from that perspective, just because I’d never experienced anything like that before. But I’m fine now. I haven’t had any problems since then.”
That’s a good thing for UL, which is counting on Horst to guide its offensive line – and the whole offense, for that matter – heading into a 2017 season that gets underway with a Sept. 2 visit to Cajun Field by Southland Conference-member Southeastern Louisiana.
“(Starting guard Kevin) Dotson is probably the force of the (offensive line) group physically. He’s just such a strong specimen,” UL coach Mark Hudspeth said. “But Grant — he’s the leader of that group.”
EMBODIMENT OF A CAJUN
It is late July, and the Sun Belt Conference is holding its annual Media Day at the Superdome in New Orleans.
A reporter asks UL senior safety Tracy Walker who he thinks “best embodies a ‘Ragin’ Cajun,’” and Walker looks to his left.
There he sees the Cajuns’ other student-athlete representing UL at the event.
“That guy right over there: Grant Horst,” Walker says.
If the perseverance he’s shown fighting through health issues isn’t enough to prove he’s Cajun-worthy — such fortitude is a great place to start — Horst’s other traits make it a done deal.
“Grant’s a great guy. He’s very sociable, very friendly,” Walker said. “He leads by example. He comes to work every day.
“So, with that being said, I feel like he stands for being a Ragin’ Cajun – for sure.”
Never mind that Horst came to Louisiana from Spanish Fort High in Spanish Fort, Alabama, located near Mobile in the shadows of fellow Sun Belt-member South Alabama.
Just understand that he’s earned his stripes as a bona fide Cajun with how he’s carried himself since arriving at UL in 2013.
Off the field, Horst has been a regular on the Sun Belt’s academic honor roll — which recognizes student-athletes with a grade-point average of 3.0 or better — since his freshman year.
Last spring, the marketing major graduated with his bachelor’s degree. Now, in his fifth season with the Cajuns, he’s pursuing an MBA at UL.
He’s also a two-year member of UL’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and a member of the current Sun Belt Leadership Team.
Horst additionally is one of 146 nationwide nominees for this year’s Allstate American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team, which recognizes players for their charitable/service work and strong academic standing, and he's on the national watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy, awarded to the college football player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.
“I think Grant Horst is an unbelievable leader,” said Will Hall, who took a liking to Horst shortly after becoming UL’s offensive coordinator earlier this year.
“He’s just a phenomenal student-athlete for this whole athletics department, not just football, and I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a person.”
On the field, Horst was UL’s 2016 Offensive Lineman of the Year. He was named offensive MVP of UL’s 2017 spring game. And he’s a second team preseason All-Sun Belt pick.
Beyond all the accolades, though, Horst is — by all accounts — a downright good teammate.
As any true Ragin’ Cajun must be.
“He helps with everything,” said UL’s Dotson, who started at right guard playing next to Horst as a redshirt freshman last season.
“If it’s something I’ve never seen but he’s seen, he’ll tell me — and it just helps us all.”
All in a day’s work, Horst suggests.
“I’ve been called Dad by a couple guys in the past couple days,” the 22-year-old said earlier this month.
“But I look at myself as equal to those guys. We all go through the same things. I’ve just been here a little bit longer.”
'A WEIRD CASE'
Horst has started 21 games over the last two seasons.
In 2015, he played all over the board — getting five starts at left tackle, three at left guard, one at right guard and one at center.
Horst went into this season slated to start again at right tackle.
But with the Cajuns needing to replace two-year starter Eddie Gordon, and projected starter Cole Prudhomme slowed by a hamstring injury lately, he’s also been taken some reps at center. And lately, partly due to a toe injury, he's been working at left tackle.
Wherever he winds up in 2017, the 6-foot-5, 302-pounder simply wants to make it through the season injury-free.
Related: Change on the line for UL at Tulane
“That’s the goal,” Horst said. “I need to play every single game this year.”
One incentive is purely personal.
“I need to get some tape out there for NFL scouts,” he said.
The other, bigger reason is what Horst ultimately believes it’s all about: “I just owe it to my team to be out there.”
Looking forward, there’s no reason to suspect he can’t make it all the way.
Although Horst does sometimes deal with sinus issues, the vertigo-like symptoms have not surfaced this year.
“I’m perfectly fine; don’t have any problems with that,” he said.
“It was kind of a weird case,” Horst added, “but I just kept on doing the treatments they wanted me to do and the next week I was fine.”
The concussion issue, meanwhile, always hangs overhead.
But that’s not just for someone who has spent as much time in the trenches for the Cajuns as Horst has.
It’s a football thing, a contact-sports thing, an all-walks-of-life thing.
In 2013, the same year Horst came to UL, a report by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council found that concussion rates appear higher for youths aged 5-21 with a history of prior concussions.
“Sometimes you think about it,” Horst said of the inherent risk, “but when you put the helmet on and go on the field you don’t really think about getting hurt or anything like that.
“So I’ve put that behind me right now, and I’m not really worried about anything right there.”