Fresh off a 1,000-yard season and first-team all-conference accolades, most high school running backs would prepare for their senior season focusing on footwork, vision and explosiveness.
Marshall senior Dylan Horstmeyer has been doing plenty of that. It’s just that he’s been learning to play quarterback, too.
Horstmeyer has started one game under center for Marshall’s triple-option offense in each of the last two seasons, as an injury replacement. This year, ineligibility for the Cardinals’ expected starter has thrust Horstmeyer into an extended cameo as the signal-caller for the first time.
He says he’s ready to take advantage of it.
“I’m just taking it as a leadership role as a senior, taking ownership of the whole team and embracing that role,” Horstmeyer said. “Yeah, I liked playing running back. But if I get to touch the ball more at quarterback, it doesn’t really matter to me. Whatever’s best for the team.”
After being mainly consigned to ball-carrying duties in his past stints at quarterback, Horstmeyer has set a goal to throw for 1,000 yards in the upcoming season — and his coaching staff is on board.
“We’re definitely going to air it out this season,” head coach Matt Kleinheinz said. “I’m confident in his arm.”
Learning the nuances of a new position is nothing out of the ordinary for Horstmeyer. In addition to his work at running back, he also has made all-conference teams as a specialist and middle linebacker.
It’s that final role that will be keeping Kleinheinz up at night.
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“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned with him being a quarterback and linebacker," Kleinheinz said, thinking of the possibility of injury. "I’d certainly rather he be a quarterback and safety.”
Horstmeyer isn’t the only Cardinals standout who will line up on both sides of the ball this season. He’ll be playing behind fellow All-Capitol South first-teamer Kelby Petersen, who also happens to be his cousin. Petersen has his own position change to adjust to, as he’s moving from interior defensive line to outside linebacker, in addition to his duties as an offensive lineman.
Kleinheinz and his coaching staff don’t enjoy leaning so heavily on their stars, but they don’t have much choice. With just 39 players and 14 upperclassmen this season, Marshall doesn’t have the luxury to keep talented players limited to one position.
Marshall’s players have embraced the opportunity to play more, even with the physical challenges.
“My conditioning isn’t the greatest, so I get tired a fair amount,” Petersen said. “But playing both ways, I love it. And knowing that the team trusts you and your coaches trust you to play both ways and not give up, it’s a great feeling.”
Playing Petersen both ways has allowed the Cardinals to tap the full potential of their most physically imposing player. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, the junior has the size to dominate Capitol Conference opponents. He was the only Capitol South sophomore to make either all-conference first team last season, even as he learned the offense in his first year as a starter.
“There were times last year when Kelby was trying to take a drink out of a fire hose,” Kleinheinz said. “When he goes full on, he’s a mitt-full to block.”
On paper, Marshall’s path back to contention for the conference crown is straightforward. With two of the three first-team all-conference returnees — both of whom play both ways — the Cardinals will have a pair of talented and experienced players in key roles for every snap.
The task ahead of them is far from easy, after winning five games in the past two years. But for now, their newfound signal-caller isn’t being shy about team goals.
“We want to win a conference championship, win the first round of the playoffs,” Horstmeyer said.