SPORTS FEATURE: Joining the Pack – One of top heavyweight wrestlers in Georgia/U.S., WL's Horne makes signing with N.C. State official

The Courier Herald – November 23, 2021

    When Chase Horne first began wrestling, as a six-year-old elementary schooler, he in no way had the look of the nationally-ranked heavyweight state champion he would become upon reaching high school. 
   Gerald Carr, now director of Perry-based Storm Wrestling Center, remembers the early years of working with Chase, along with older brother Joseph, in the West Laurens wrestling room when he was still an assistant coach at the school in the late 2000s. 
   "He had these goggles that you have to see," Carr said. "They made his eyes look like they were 15 times bigger than they were. He wasn't as skilled as he is now. Let's just say, he needed some improvement.  But you look at him, and that's the great thing about wrestling, you can't look at somebody and say they're not gonna be a great wrestler. Chase's heart outweighs more than anything. He wasn't gifted with the most athleticism, but his work ethic and his desire to win overcame a lot of his shortcomings." 
   Horne, now a senior, has wrestled his way to a place alongside Carr as one of the greatest in West Laurens history, and also among the country's best in the class of 2022. 
   The Raider senior has won individual state championships in each of his three seasons to date, and remains unbeaten in GHSA competition since his sophomore year. Outside of school wrestling, in which he'll vie for a four-peat at state early next year, he has also competed at a number of national events, bringing home various titles and earning a top national ranking in his weight class. 
   Horne has been committed for some time to wrestle collegiately at North Carolina State, but with the only recent start of the NCAA's early signing period, couldn't make that decision officially official until signing his National Letter of Intent to join the Wolfpack in a ceremony last Wednesday at the WLHS media center. 
   The occasion offered a chance to look back on his lengthy journey to reach levels of the sport few would have envisioned. 
   "I think if you would've seen me at six, or when I was in elementary school, you wouldn't have said this dude's going to be at a top-five college," Horne said. "But I think with the help of Coach Carr and hard work and consistency every day, I eventually kept improving and improving until I was the best." 
   However humble the beginnings, Horne was quick to catch on and come into his own as a wrestler. By the end of that first year on the mat, he had already brought home some hardware, perhaps to foreshadow the collection of trophies and medals he's won in the years since. 
   "He ended up being a state champion that first year of little kids wrestling," Carr said. "At the state tournament, had a huge migraine. He was about to have to forfeit the match, but he said, 'nope.' He battled through it, went out there and pinned the kid and won the state title. That right there started him on the road to where he's at right now." 
   Whether you ask his coaches or friends, Horne's defining attribute as a wrestler is his noticeable drive, and willingness to go to any length to succeed. 
   "You never could tell if he had just gotten back from practice, or just got out of the shower," said friend and fellow WLHS senior Jace Clark.  
   "He just outworked everybody," Carr said. "Anytime I had a camp, anytime I had extra practice, anytime I wanted him somewhere doing something, he said 'yes sir.'" 
   As the years went on, a big part of that growth and development was wrestling against some of the top national competition, which involved travel to tournaments far and wide that wouldn't have been possible without the support of his parents, dad Jamie and mom Dena. 
   "I don't think there's ever been a practice or tournament I've asked to go to that they've said no to, whether it's in North Dakota, or an hour away in Perry," Horne said. "It's been awesome to have them." 
   Those events, beyond the cost of gas and lodging, also carried no small entry fees. Jamie, early on, made sure that Chase understood the level of dedication that would be expected of him to justify that investment. And a deal was reached that if he would put that work in, they would do whatever it took to make it happen.
   Over the 12 or so years since that moment, there haven't been many free afternoons or weekends in the household for Chase's busy wrestling calendar. And it will no doubt feel a bit strange when a few of them open up after he makes his way to Raleigh next fall. 
   "I've got to find something else to do now," Jamie said. "I've been carrying him to wrestling tournaments and practices since he was six. So I'm gonna have to figure out how to find a hobby or something." 
   Managing the demands of both high school and wrestling is its own talent for Horne, who on most days juggles team practice, an individual coaching session, homework and a workout after school hours are finished. When all else is done for the day, he can usually be seen on YouTube watching wrestling matches and studying the work of others in the sport. 
   From the physical demands to following a strict diet, being among the sport's elite is a 24/7 enterprise. 
   "He has always loved wrestling," Dena said. "He just easts, sleeps, breathes wrestling." 
   Horne credits Carr with instilling in him a love of wrestling, and a hunger for elite competition by demanding that above-and-beyond work ethic. 
   "The big thing with me is just making the most out of every practice and lift, to try to soak up as much as possible," Horne said. "I think in coach Carr's program, we outwork a lot of people in Georgia and in the country, too. It's hard work. I don't think I've ever been in a practice and not gotten pushed by someone. There's always someone there to push me, if not beat me, in the room. That kind of stuff helps you improve." 
   N.C. State, besides being one of the country's top wrestling programs, stood out to Horne and his family for the strong faith of 10th-year head coach Pat Popolizio and his staff. 
   "When we started talking to NC State, all of those coaches are good Christian people, and we started talking with them, and they started showing their values and talking about their values there," Dena said. "I knew God had just hand-picked that school for him. We couldn't ask for a better school." 
   Horne has no specific goals for the next chapter of his career, but said he plans to pursue whatever achievements that he has the ability and opportunity to reach for. 
   "I honestly want to wrestle to my fullest potential," he said. "If that is being Olympic champion, that's what I want to be. I just want to be the best version of myself that I can be." 
   Jeff Shepard, who coached Horne at Storm and now serves as a community assistant coach for West Laurens, said his ceiling in and beyond college will be limited only by his desire to outwork the competition. 
   "It's just how much extra time you want to put in to make yourself that much better. And he's done that better than anybody I know," he said. "If he will stay grounded, and not let any of it get to his head, he's going to take this as far as he wants to take it." 
   To re-phrase a well-known saying, it's not the quality of the wolf in the hunt, but the quality of the hunt in the wolf. And as he prepares to join a new pack, Horne will look to the same enthusiasm and desire to succeed to keep him on the scent of great things at the collegiate level. 
   "I'm super proud," Carr said. "It takes a village to raise a kid. I think Dena and Jamie for allowing me to put my fingerprint on him. That's one thing, they will come in and say, 'You got him, he's yours,' and Chase, he soaks up everything you want to teach him. 
   "He thinks he's a lightweight, that he's a little kid. And that's one reason for his success. He's not afraid to try anything. He's open to change. He listens to what we're trying to say, and that's the combination of a champion."