Succeeding the hard way

Labeled `soft' when he was a child, Raynard Horne has proved to be more than tough enough as a star running back for Overlea.


Toughness wasn't something Reggie Phifer saw in his nephew when Raynard Horne was a small child.

"He was living with his mother and his grandmother, getting away with a lot of things. I felt he was kind of soft," Phifer said. "so I would try to toughen him up a bit. but every time I would try to horse around with him, he'd start crying."

But as Horne developed, Phifer watched the soft touch disappear.

"Before long, he would get to where he would start to hit back, try to take you down," Phifer said. "Now, Raynard's gotten too big. I can't mess with him anymore."

Horne's maturity into a teenager mirrors his development into one of the state's top college football prospects. Now a muscular running back at Overlea, Horne has gone from being a role player on last year's squad to a senior star.

On Friday night at Overlea, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder bound for the University of Virginia will lead the unbeaten Falcons against visiting Milford Mill in a key Baltimore County 2A-1A League game.

And Phifer, who watched Horne grow up physically and mentally, will be among Horne's many relatives watching from the stands.

"Raynard's a lot more outgoing and outspoken than he used to be, probably because the sports he has played have helped him to become that way," said Kanora Winkler, Phifer's sister, who drove Horne to a couple of the college campuses he visited during the summer. "The fact that Raynard's doing what he's doing and going where he's going is no surprise to me. He's gone from being a quiet young man to a more vocal and expressive and active one."

Winkler's dream is to hear Horne sing the national anthem at a game, much as he sings at the Renew Hope Church in West Baltimore where his grandmother, Aimee Phifer, is the pastor. Horne also is a talented drummer and plays guitar and keyboards.

But Horne wasn't always a choirboy.

Raised early on near Forest Park High in Baltimore by his paternal grandmother, Lois Green, who started him in sports at 9, Horne often got into trouble. Phifer and his wife, Samartha, thought he might be helped by having a male role model in his life; Raynard has never met his father. The couple brought him into their Rosedale home as an eighth-grader and became his legal guardians.

"My aunt and uncle, I wouldn't be anywhere without them," said Horne, who still sees his mother, Sophia, on occasion. "Any time I've needed something, they've been there for support. My uncle is the most important man in my life. He's taught me how to be a man."

Horne is the man for Overlea this year. Last season, he was overshadowed by second-team All-Metro receiver-defensive back Akeem Richards and 1,000-yard passer Ariel Morales.

Horne rushed for 500 yards and eight touchdowns as junior and had two more scores as a receiver. As a defensive back, he made 81 tackles and intercepted two passes, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

"A lot of the Division I coaches who came to see Akeem asked for film on Raynard. They really liked his size and athleticism," Overlea coach Keith Robinson said of Horne, who has grown an inch and added 20 pounds of muscle since last season. "I sent film to those who requested it and about six or seven others. I received calls from schools like Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Marshall, Syracuse and Miami of Ohio."

Robinson told Horne his stock could rise with hard work.

"Raynard worked his tail off in the weight room, played basketball for the first time ever," Robinson said. "He ran outdoor track and was a member of the 2A state champion [400-meter] relay team."

Horne's athleticism was on display during the Nike Camp at Penn State in April, where he bench-pressed 320 pounds, had a vertical leap of 36.4 inches and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds.

His overall performance ranked eighth among 400 prospects. Robinson said similar efforts during camps at Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech "stoked the recruiting fire."

"A guy you didn't hear much about last year suddenly receiving the offers Horne did - that was probably [the state's] biggest offseason surprise," said Sheldon Shealer, co-editor of, a recruiting Web site. "From the video I saw, I wasn't quite sure whether he belonged at running back, outside linebacker or defensive back. But Raynard benefited from the summer camp circuit."

Horne committed to Virginia after a second campus visit in August. "I felt like that would be a great fit for me," Horne said. "Now, it's time for me to show that I deserve [the scholarship]."

Horne ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns against Towson in the season opener. A week later, he ran for three touchdowns and 82 yards and caught a 59-yard touchdown in a win over Randallstown. Last Friday, he had six carries for 136 yards and three touchdowns and added a 32-yard scoring reception in a 48-15 rout of Sparrows Point.

"It's been tough to catch me in the open field, and my hands have improved," Horne said. "I'm a lot stronger, a lot faster, and I make people work harder to bring me down."

Horne gives credit to his offensive line - Sean Copeland, James Carmen, James Coppage, Gregg Mayor, Raymond Servance, Daniel Reed and Eric Raven - and his backfield mates, Gene Knight and Javiel Morales.

"If teams try to focus on me like they did on Akeem, it'll just open things up for my teammates," Horne said. "They might slow me down some, but they'll never stop me. I'm a lot tougher than I used to be."

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