Football games are the place to be on Friday nights in the fall.
Growing up one of the memories that stand out from attending games for senior teammates and best friends Corey Catron and Torrey Horak are the games they would play behind the bleachers.
“Football games got intense behind there with all the other little kids running around,” said Catron.
“It played a part in getting us ready for high school, honestly,” said Horak, with a laugh.
Catron and Horak were two key pieces of this year's undefeated state title winning team that completed its journey Saturday when the Dawgs beat Beloit in the 2A state title game 35-12.
"Those zeroes hit the clock — I look over at Corey, he gives me a hug and it finally set in," said Horak. "This is exactly the way we wanted to go out."
The Catron and Horak families are close friends. Catron and Horak have been friends for as long as they can remember.
Both were introduced to football in kindergarten, playing flag football before starting tackle in third grade. They have been teammates that entire time.
Thatcher and Tucker, Horak’s two older brothers, are best friends and high school teammates with one of Catron’s older brothers, Marcus.
From kids to champions
For them, it’s all come full circle.
“We got to watch them grow up,” said Tucker Horak. “Just watching them develop from being little kids to little boys, and now they're growing up and they're young adults.”
Tucker said when they were younger, Catron and Horak were on a different level athletically than other kids. He has really seen them blossom these past two years of high school, however.
“(Torrey’s) completely changed his mindset when running the ball and has become much more of a physical runner, which has absolutely taken his game to a new level,” said Tucker. “It was cool watching (Corey) run around as a kid the same way he does today, where it doesn't matter if you're bigger than him or stronger than him, he's going to come up and lay the wood.”
Thatcher treasures the relationship.
“Those two hold a spot near and dear to my heart,” he said. “Being my little brother and Corey has been like a little brother. Our dads have been best friends since day one.
“Getting to play with Corey’s older brother, we made a pledge we were going to watch over them and help them develop. We wanted them to be the best, to be state champions.”
Head coach Derick Hammes saw Catron’s and Horak’s passion for football at a young age as they came up through the youth programs and attended team camps.
“I knew they had good talent,” said Hammes. “For both, having older brothers, I just think they got to watch how their older brothers did things and I think that was a big influence on how they approached their high school careers.”
'It was huge to watch them do that, we kind of idolized them'
Catron and Horak were in fifth grade when Rossville won its first of three consecutive state titles starting in 2014.
Horak remembers Thatcher having an 85-yard touchdown run to seal the game over archrival Silver Lake to get to the state title before winning it all.
“I just remember us getting over that hump and it was like, ‘Wow we can do this,’” said Horak. “It was huge to watch them do that, we kind of idolized them.”
“It really motivated us going into junior high to get into the weight room to work out and trust what Hammes wanted us to do,” added Catron.
Rossville had been a consistent regional and substate football team before Hammes took over in 2013.
Entering this year, Hammes held an 85-13 record with four state titles (2014, 2015, 2016, 2020).
As they got older, adding to the trophy case was something Catron and Horak talked about after seeing their older siblings accomplish it themselves.
After successful seasons of 8-3 their freshman year and 7-3 as sophomores, they went 13-0 last year, defeating Hoisington 27-20 in the 2A state title game to win one of their own.
“Unbelievable,” said Catron when asked about what he was feeling as the clock hit zero. “A lot of emotions were running through my body at the time.”
“I don’t know if I can describe it,” added Horak. “It was insane, so many hugs. Who do I hug next? So much going on, it was amazing.”
Biding their time
As was the case with many of the great players that have played under Hammes, Catron and Horak bided their time early, but their talent got them on the field.
Both earned playing time early as they developed into the weapons they are today.
Catron got his first varsity start at linebacker as a sophomore and split time with Tyree Sowers last year before becoming the featured back this year.
Horak started on defense as a freshman before taking over as the starting quarterback his sophomore year.
“I won’t lie. They had their sophomore moments where they would struggle, but there was always the right kind of push from at home,” said Hammes. “And again, I go back to seeing brothers of theirs in the program was helpful for them.”
“It’s been a fun journey,” said Thatcher. “Watching them from day one, in any sport. Watching them play basketball or baseball growing up even playing in the backyard growing up as kids.”
Stepping up as leaders for senior year
Thatcher, an assistant coach with the team, identified Catron and Horak as leaders on this year's team.
Both have bought into Hammes system and both play important positions on the field that require leadership.
Catron and Horak have been integral parts on both sides of the ball this year. Catron is the team's starting running back and middle linebacker and Horak is the team's starting quarterback and defensive back.
Going into the state title game against Beloit on Saturday; Catron is the team’s leading rusher with 1,241 yards and 25 touchdowns, adding 215 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Catron also had a stint at quarterback to keep the team undefeated after Horak went down with an injury during their first matchup with Silver Lake.
Defensively, Catron leads the team with 101 tackles, three sacks, an interception, a fumble recovery and 11 tackles for loss.
“Corey has such an instinct. He never overruns the ball, rarely misses a read and he gets guys to the ground,” said Hammes. “You can get to the point of attack, but you eventually have to tackle. He’s a special defensive player.”
Horak has passed for 1,112 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception while adding 98 yards on the ground and 13 touchdowns.
“I think it was safe to say as a sophomore he was an athlete playing the position,” said Hammes. “Now I would call him a quarterback. He understands the game so well.”
Defensively, Horak has 20 tackles, an interception and three tackles for loss.
They’ve produced behind offensive and defensive lines that returned three starters in seniors Brody Leitz and Mshewe Hale and junior Jacob Carver with the new additions of sophomore Barret Leitz and juniors Mahliq Jackson and Sean Cunningham.
“They’ve opened up everything for us,” said Catron. “Without them and what they do, me and Torrey wouldn’t be able to run and do what we like to do, score.”
“They do an incredible job, our defensive line is incredible,” added Horak. “We always like to joke with them and say the secondary is better, but they do a lot of things right. It’s hard to block those guys.”
Tucker said that one thing that sets them apart from other duos is the fact that they’ve been playing together for so long, building that comradery, brotherhood and developed trust that they know the other is going to deliver when things get tough.
“When games are close and things start to get tough and you could either turn away or push forward, that's when you really see them playing their best football,” said Tucker.
“They have guys on the team that really, really enjoy being led and they like performing for their leaders and for their team and their community. And I think that's really what's set them apart from everyone else.”
Heading into this year, Hammes told the team there would be a target on their backs coming off the state title, but Horak said they had the same expectations.
“I feel like we have (had a target on our back),” said Horak. “But I feel like we were motivated and didn’t want to settle for anything less than playing for a state championship again.”
“All summer, everyone had the mindset we should be back and we would be back in the championship,” added Catron.
After week one, when they beat a strong 1A team in Centralia 38-0, they knew they had a solid team.
Thatcher noticed a determination in Catron and Horak heading into this year, not being satisfied after winning the state title last year.
“These guys are hungry. They want more,” said Thatcher. “Their mentality is they’re going to go out and take it. They prepare for it all summer. They practice their tails off all season long, countless hours watching film, giving up weekends to come in on Saturday's to watch film and stretch.”
Days before the championship game, Catron and Horak said a chance to go out as back-to-back state champions, undefeated in both years, would mean a lot to not only each other but their fellow classmates, too.
“This senior class has been super tight for so long,” said Horak. “If we can go win this thing for all of us, for the rest of the team, the community, the coaches, it would be amazing.”
Contact Seth Kinker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SethKinker
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Corey Catron and Torrey Horak were key pieces of Rossville's undefeated state title team.