Oct. 2, 2010
Around the Horns
There are certainly some perks that go along with being the younger brother of a four-time NFL Pro Bowler. Northwest senior linebacker Willie Horn can't catch touchdowns or run routes like his older brother, Joe, can, but that hasn't stopped him from attending the Super Bowl and meeting stars like Tim McGraw, Mariah Carey, Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Cedric the Entertainer.
"I've had a good lifestyle through my brother to say the least," said younger brother Willie. "I definitely love him for that."
Willie is the youngest of seven children. Seven years separate him from Scorpio, sibling number six. Sherika, number five, is the lone daughter of Martha Johnson, Willie's mom. Joe, the third Horn, is 16 years older than Willie.
Willie's childhood was dramatically different than his brothers and sister. Martha worked constantly while trying to provide for seven children in North Carolina which meant Willie's siblings grew up under the watch of aunts and grandparents. When Joe was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1996 NFL Draft, the family moved to Missouri. Willie was set to enter the fourth grade.
"We were poverty stricken before Joe got into the NFL," said Willie. "I rode with my mom and Scorpio on a Greyhound to Kansas City. Joe was already out here with his wife and daughter. It was just us at first, but slowly my brothers and sister made their way out here.
"My mom still worked as the head of the electronics department at Wal-Mart when we got out here. When Joe went to New Orleans, that's when he got his first big break. After his first year down there, he retired my mom and that's when I saw a difference."
With Joe providing for the family, Martha was finally able to spend time with her children. That worked out especially well for Willie, who suddenly could find his mom in the stands at football and basketball games and in the crowd at his choir concerts.
Yes, Willie and his siblings can sing.
"Pretty much everybody in my family can sing," said Willie. "My brothers had a gospel group that basically my mom put together to sing at our church. Joe sang the national anthem with Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith at a Chiefs game on Monday Night Football. The choir teacher found me at school the next day. My mom always wanted me to be well-rounded so she wanted me to be in choir."
Willie and Joe have always been close. Willie would run and find his brother on the football field after Joe's high school games. Joe would put Willie on his shoulder pads and take him into the locker room.
"He gave me my nickname, Scrappy," said Willie. "I guess they used to always put me by the Christmas tree and I'd go through the presents.
"Joe said I was always around him when he was growing up. I loved football - that's what he said. He knew I'd always want to strive to play."
Truth is Willie didn't play organized football until he was in seventh grade. "Mama Horn" wouldn't allow it. Once she let Willie play, she saw how much he loved the game and started following him around.
Joe first saw his youngest brother play in a Northwest uniform at the 2008 national championship game against Minnesota-Duluth.
"It was odd after that first game," said Willie. "He said ‘when I saw you come out of the locker room, I just sat down, put my head in my hands and I cried. Watching you play that game, the emotion you played with, I just wish I could have been around more.'"
Joe, who resides in Atlanta with his wife and six children, was also in the stands when the Bearcats beat Grand Valley State for the title last season. Willie made seven tackles in that contest, including a key stop behind the line of scrimmage on 3rd-and-1 from the 3 late in the fourth quarter when Northwest led 30-20. The Lakers settled for three points, failed to recover the onside kick and Northwest went on to win its third national title.
"That play, really, it did me well because I thought I actually contributed," said Willie. "Our defense had a never-quit mentality all last year and a lot of that we can contribute to the seniors we had."
This year, Willie is one of those seniors. He was selected as one of six team captains by his teammates and is certainly one of the team's emotional leaders. He enters today's game against Missouri Western as the team's second-leading tackler.
Joe won't be amongst the crowd for today's game, but Martha certainly will be. She'll be wearing her Northwest jersey with "Mama Horn" on the back and a pin with Willie's picture on the front. Five of Willie's siblings will be rooting for a Northwest win. One will not.
Scorpio is a Missouri Western graduate, who played defensive tackle and offensive guard for the Griffons from 2002-05. He still openly roots for his alma mater.
"I've had that call already," said Willie. "He calls bragging and it's kind of awkward having a brother who played at a rival school. Most people would see it as weird to have a sibling talking trash, but that's just how our family is. I know he doesn't mean anything by it.
"It just makes it more special to go out and want to beat them and do this for our team. We haven't lost to them while I've been here. We have that confidence that we don't want to lose."
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