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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Teammates turned rivals

Photo by FILE

Sophomore running back Devon Achane has proven his ability to make a significant impact on the Aggie offense with two touchdowns in the Sept. 4 game against Kent State. 

Texas A&M’s Devon Achane and Arkansas’ Malik Hornsby have had quite the ride together. 

After playing together at AT&T Stadium as teammates during their youth, the 4-star recruits must now prepare to face off against each other from opposite sidelines. Playing on the same high school football team in Missouri City, the pair of running backs went to, and lost, two state championships together at AT&T Stadium. Despite both being recruited by A&M in 2019, only Achane chose the Aggies while Hornsby opted for the SEC-foe Razorbacks. 

The duo will once again play at the home of the Dallas Cowboys together on Saturday, Sept. 25 — but only one can come out with a win.

“We both lost [in high school], so we make a joke like one of us has got to win [in the Southwest Classic],” Achane said. “It’s like a little thing we say, like a curse.”

The Fort Bend Marshall Buffalos narrowly lost by a score of 49-47 in the quarterfinals of the 2017 Texas UIL 5A playoffs, despite Achane’s 248 total yards of offense. Achane was a standout athlete for the Buffs, running for 1,196 yards and 18 touchdowns in his first varsity season. Though his success wasn’t enough to carry the team, as the Buffs got sent back home by the eventual tournament-champion College Station Cougars.

Fort Bend Marshall fortunately had a young talent in Achane. A roster turnover in 2018 sent the Buffs’ quarterback Jabari James to Tulsa, and then-junior Hornsby was forced to take over the starting job. From there, the newly-formed offensive duo took the team to new heights.

“They were great teammates. They enjoyed being around each other, so they had a good relationship,” Fort Bend football coach James Williams said. “When you have two great players like that, and they are hard workers, then the team follows, too.”

Achane and Hornsby lit the Texas 5A world on fire in 2018. Hornsby threw for 1,969 yards and 23 touchdowns and ran for an additional 772 yards and 13 touchdowns. Achane rushed for 1,361 yards and 30 touchdowns and caught 26 passes for 642 yards and seven touchdowns. The team went 15-0 before losing in the 5A state championship game at AT&T Stadium to Aledo High School.

Coming so close to the title, the Buffs were ready to make another push for the championship game. The high school’s two star offensive players were entering their senior year of high school, and their relationship was closer than ever.

“[It] was like brotherhood,” Hornsby’s mother, Seth McCoy, said. “They spent a lot of time doing school together. They’d go to each other’s house. They just really hung out like two real good brothers.”

The pair put scouts across the country on notice with an even more impressive senior season when they eclipsed each of their previous seasons’ stat totals. Hornsby amassed 2,279 passing yards and 29 touchdowns as well as 1,587 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. Achane ran for 2,266 yards and 40 touchdowns while adding 38 catches for 768 yards and 10 touchdowns. The team went 14-1 until history repeated itself and the Buffs lost to Aledo once more at AT&T Stadium in the state championship game in 2019.

Despite their senior seasons coming to a close, neither of the players’ football careers were close to over.

“They got a lot of [collegiate] offers, and a lot of offers early,” Williams said. “It was good for them and good for the exposure of the school. Their recruiting was fast and furious.”

Recruiters from colleges across the country in various conferences tried to woo the 4-star tandem for its rare combination of athleticism and skill. Fourteen different programs ultimately gave offers to both Achane and Hornsby. Yet, in the end, the players felt drawn to different places.

Achane told 247Sports in 2019 that A&M’s use of running back Isaiah Spiller in Spiller’s first season was a reason why he ultimately chose to join the maroon and white.

“[Spiller is] a freshman playing, so I think I could have the same opportunity to do so as a freshman,” Achane said. “It really opens my eyes a lot that he’s a freshman and he’s on the field and starting … I like how they would use me in the offense.”

Hornsby was equally sought-after coming out of high school, receiving offers from more than 20 programs.

“He had a lot of favorites with a lot of coaches,” McCoy said. “He wished he could play for all of them.”

However, Hornsby had to choose only one program.

Williams said Hornsby had a very high comfort level with then-Florida State offensive coordinator Kendal Briles that — through a winding path — ultimately led him to Fayetteville, Ark., where Briles has been coaching since 2020. 

McCoy said it was Hornsby’s ability to make plays out of nothing that made him so desirable to coaches like Briles.

“Coach Briles had been following my son for quite some time,” McCoy said. “He chose [Arkansas] with coach Briles because he was the offensive coordinator and he knows he could run that offense that coach Briles has.”

Achane and Hornsby weren’t only football stars in high school, however. Both were members of a very successful Buffalos’ track program. In their junior year, Fort Bend Marshall won the 5A state championship in track and field. Achane won the state title in three events, including the 200 meter, the 4×100 meter and the 4×200 meter. Achane also won the 2019-2020 Gatorade Boy’s Track and Field Player of the Year award in his senior year, despite the season being shortened due to COVID-19.

Hornsby, while not a member of the state-winning 4×100 meter team, did compete in the event for the Buffs and made national headlines when the team ran the second fastest 4×100 meter relay in high school history. During the preliminary trials at the Texas Regional III-5A meet in Webster, the junior duo were members of a team that ran 39.99 seconds in the event — just trailing the 39.76 second mark set by a 1998 team from O.D. Wyatt High School in Fort Worth.

Williams said their track backgrounds contributed to their success in football.

“Getting that offseason work was definitely beneficial to them,” Williams said. “Fighting through the pain, fighting through the lactic acid, building up your legs. It definitely builds strength and mental toughness.”

Achane, in his first year at A&M, was a rotational running back for the Aggies behind then-sophomores Isaiah Spiller and Ainias Smith. He finished the year fourth on the team in carries behind Spiller, Smith and then-senior quarterback Kellen Mond. Achane finished his regular season with 31 carries for 224 yards and two touchdowns before having a breakout game in the Orange Bowl. Against North Carolina, Achane was named the Most Outstanding Player after running for 140 yards and two touchdowns on only 12 carries.

His performance against the Tar Heels helped Achane carve out a larger role in the offense for his sophomore collegiate season. In A&M’s three games in the 2021 season as of presstime, Achane has nearly eclipsed his previous regular season numbers. The running back has rushed for 203 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries, gaining an efficient 6.8 yards-per-carry average.

Continuing on his own path with the Razorbacks, Hornsby took a redshirt year in his 2020 freshman season at Arkansas. So far in 2021, his redshirt freshman season, Hornsby has backed up first-year starter and fellow former 4-star quarterback KJ Jefferson. The former Buff has appeared in two games so far, completing his only pass attempt and rushing for 51 yards on just six carries. He had his first career touchdown on a goal-to-go option run against Georgia Southern in Week 3.

Arkansas and A&M faced off in 2020, the duo’s first years of college, but the match was played in College Station due to COVID-19. Achane had four carries in the Aggies’ 42-31 win, and Hornsby did not appear. 

This year, the historic rivalry returns to a place where Hornsby and Achane have their own history.

Achane’s Aggies and Hornsby’s Razorbacks face off at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Saturday, Sept. 25, at 2:30 p.m. for the 78th iteration of the Southwest Classic.

No matter how big rivalries are, they don’t always have to turn fans against one another. McCoy said she follows both Achane’s journey at A&M and Hornsby’s journey at Arkansas, with her support ignoring the borders of rivalry.

“To me, in this game, I don’t care who wins or loses,” McCoy said. “I just want to see both of them play.

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