When Valley City State University assistant head football coach and defensive coordinator Gregg Horner found out earlier this year that he had been nominated to received 2012 NAIA Assistant Coach of the Year award, he was humbled but didn't necessarily keep it at the forefront of his mind.
"That, to me, really was the was the end of it," Horner said. "I never really thought that it would go on and I'd end up being named the guy."
Turns out, the nomination from VCSU head coach Dennis McCulloch wasn't the end of it.
Last week Horner, who graduated from VCSU in 1990 and came back to coach in 1994, got a call from the American Football Coaches Association informing him that he'd won the award, which put it in perspective.
"I'm proud of the work that I've done here, I'm proud of the things we've accomplished as a staff, and I think that when you look back over time, the 19 years that Coach Mac and I have been together, we've done some really good things," Horner said Friday in a humble tone. "I'm just surprised by it because there are so many good coaches out there."
Horner was one of three finalists for the award, along with Carroll (Mont.) College offensive line and strength coach Jim Hogan and Midland (Neb.) University defensive coordinator Eric Inama.
Winners at other levels included Kirby Smart, the defensive coordinator at the University of Alabama and John Revere, the running backs coach at Eastern Kentucky, at the NCAA Division I FBS and FCS levels. A.J. Blazek, co-offensive coordinator at Winona (Minn.) State University and Joe Early, the offensive coordinator at Middlebury (Vt.) College, were the NCAA Division II and III recipients.
According to a press release by the AFCA announcing the award last week, football playing schools are encouraged to nominate an assistant for the award. Horner was nominated by VCSU head coach Dennis McCulloch. The winners were then chosen by the AFCA's Public Relations Committee.
Winners were considered for both their coaching on the field, as well as contributions off the field.
Between the lines, VCSU narrowly missed the NAIA playoffs, but still finished the season with a 7-3 record and a No. 24 ranking in the final NAIA top-25 coaches' poll.
The Vikings finished ranked No. 18 in offense allowed in the nation, allowing 298.5 yards per game, and is No. 13 in pass defense, allowing only 159 yards per game.
VCSU also had five defensive players, including co-Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Freije, named to the Association of Independent Institutions' All-Conference team.
"There are a couple of series, really, that we'd like to have back, and maybe parts of some games, but for the most part I thought they played pretty well," Horner said. "The kids rose to the occasion at the end of the season too."
But off the field, Horner's had plenty of success as well.
With Horner serving as the team's academic coordinator, the AFCA noted that 95 percent of football players that have been in the program four years have graduated.
Though Horner said the school faces few problems with graduation rates due to a lack of players leaving for professional football careers, he's still proud of the rate, and said many of the players who don't initially graduate end up coming back years later to finish their degrees.
Horner also organizes community outreach programs for student-athletes, including a first grade reading program, the "Bleed Cardinal" blood drive, and helps recruit athletes to help at events including the Earth Week cleanup at City Park and the annual "Ruckus at the Rec" Halloween festival.
He said much of that work is a result of him being the university's representative for the NAIA Champions of Character program, which allows him to get the school's student-athletes involved around the city.
"That's the nice thing about a small community, we can get our kids out there and participate in a bunch of different things," Horner said. "It's not just the football team, it's not just the athletic department. I think our whole university really takes a lot of pride in (its community involvement) and does a good job of helping our kids hopefully become a part of the community too."
Horner credited his family with being a strong foundation for him throughout the years.
"If you are in college coaching for as long as I have been you need to have a supportive family," he said. "I am blessed that my wife is very understanding and supportive of me and the team. You cant be a small college football coach without them."