Team dreams: Father, son play big roles in Chaffee's rejuvenated football program

Thursday, August 28, 2008
AARON EISENHAUER ~ Brian Horrell, one of the Chaffee, Mo., football coaches, has the pleasure of coaching his son, senior Aaron Horrell, as quarterback.

A lot of boys grow up with dreams of playing quarterback, leading their favorite teams to the Super Bowl or the college football national championship.

Aaron Horrell's dreams included directing the offense at Chaffee High School, dreams that began in a time when playing for the Red Devils wasn't the popular thing to do.

"Everybody always thought I would be a quarterback," he said. "I always wanted to be a quarterback. When I was little, Dad was the coach and I was always running around and throwing the football."

Aaron's father, Brian Horrell, took a turn as Chaffee's head coach during the lean years. He was the head coach from 1996 to 1998, posting a record of 3-25, including one win by forfeit, during Chaffee's stretch of 16 straight losing seasons that finally was snapped last year.

"He was stressed out a lot at home, but he handled it the best he could," Aaron Horrell said. "I was always the manager out here with the guys, and we joked around and had fun. They didn't have the success they wanted, but I'm sure they enjoyed it."

Chaffee football is in a different place now, and both Horrells are playing a big role.

Aaron Horrell, now a senior, will make his first varsity start at quarterback when the Red Devils open the season Friday at Grandview in Jefferson County.

Brian Horrell will be on the sidelines, where he has been for 17 seasons, though now as an assistant coach to Charlie Vickery.

And the Red Devils will be trying to follow last year's breakthrough 6-4 season with another winning campaign and perhaps the school's first playoff berth since the 1983 state championship season.

Brian Horrell was a member of that team as a freshman.

"We had a great senior class and a great junior class," Brian Horell said, "so I didn't get a chance to see the field much. Fortunately that year, we were ahead by quite a bit a lot late in the game and I'd usually get in late.

"I have great memories of that from being able to stay as a team in hotels on the trips and the camaraderie. I was blessed. There are not a lot of state champions out there, and it's special for the whole community."

Chaffee will celebrate the 25th anniversary of that championship team at homecoming the weekend of Oct. 3.

Brian Horrell also had the opportunity to share the success with his older brother, Allen, who also went on to be a coach at Chaffee before becoming principal there and now at Oak Ridge.

"He was a sophomore, and he was a big old boy," Brian Horrell said. "I was kind of the puny one. He played quite a bit. I've got plenty of pictures of him standing right on the old St. Louis Cardinal logo at Busch Stadium on the opening kickoff."

The brothers Horrell never returned to the playoffs. The Red Devils finished 6-3 the following year, losing to Hayti 9-0 in the finale to decide the conference championship. With the points system to determine playoff participants, Chaffee already had been eliminated from the postseason.

"That kind of left a bad taste in our mouth knowing we didn't have a shot to defend our title going into that game," said Brian, who was a running back.

Chaffee dipped to 3-7 in each of Brian Horrell's last two seasons.

He went on to Southeast Missouri State, where he played baseball briefly before focusing on his studies, and he began his coaching career at Chaffee during his final two years at college. He assisted Mick Wessel, who coached the Red Devils during the 1983 state championship season, and took on a variety of other assignments, including girls basketball.

Brian Horrell currently is the head baseball coach.

"I've coached wherever they've asked to me to coach over the years," Brian said. "I've coached about everything here."

He has stayed with the football program through thin and thin and even leaner times. His brother succeeded him as coach and Allen's final team in 2002 was 1-9. The program lost 34 straight games from that season until the 2006 opener, a win at Grandview.

"We went through a rut there where for a while where it was tough to get kids out, and we had a tough spell where we weren't winning a lot," Brian Horrell said. "Those things kind of go hand in hand. When things are tough, it's hard to get kids to be a part of your program."

The return of state coaches association Hall of Famer Charlie Vickery to Chaffee in 2005 after a 27-year absence brought "a rejuvenation," said Horrell, whose older brother, Randy, was a quarterback in the 1970s during Vickery's first stint at Chaffee.

Vickery had led Sikeston to seven playoff appearances from 1978 to 2003 before stepping down.

"We got kids out there early," Brian Horrell said. "The first year, we didn't win any games but with all the new kids, we set some building blocks for the following year, and we started winning."

Chaffee was 3-7 in 2006 before doubling its win total last season. With the state's new playoff format this season, putting the top two teams from each district into the bracket instead of just the district champion, the Red Devils could gain a playoff appearance if they can repeat last year's showing.

Chaffee graduated several key players from last year's team, including its top four rushers. Among those was quarterback Andy Hendrix, who had moved from tailback to quarterback to succeed Michael Lee.

Into the role now steps Aaron Horrell, who has had his to work to reach his dream.

"In grade school, I got a little hefty and everybody kind of joked that I was going to be a lineman," he said. "I worked hard the last three or four years to get in better shape and get back to quarterback."

Aaron's chances of taking the role after Lee's graduation was derailed by surgery on a cracked growth plate in his right elbow during the summer before his junior year.

"I rehabbed throughout the summer and got back in the groove on the JV team last year," Aaron said. "I'm real excited about this year. I'll do my best with it.

"There is pressure, but I'm ready for it because you just get to play one time in high school and for most people, then it's over, so you've just got to do your best."

Brian Horrell, who coaches the defensive linemen and receivers, doesn't work directly with his son -- "Thank goodness. He gets enough of me hollering at him at home and during baseball season," Brian said -- but he can't help watching with interest and typical trepidation.

"Sometimes it's kind of scary if he's back there as a sitting duck, and you hope he bounces back up," Brian said. "As a coach, I'm proud of him because he's worked hard over the years. He had a pretty good JV season, and he worked hard to get this opportunity as a senior, so I'm tickled to death for him."

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