Aspen tailback grateful to return to action |

Aspen tailback grateful to return to action

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jon Maletz/The Aspen TimesHornburg sheds a tackle and sprints upfield Thursday.

ASPEN – Casey Hornburg described last week’s game in Basalt as gut-wrenching.

His Aspen High teammates struggled mightily all evening against the Longhorns. The senior tailback, relegated to a spectator because of a knee injury, anxiously followed the action from the visiting sideline.

“It was going through my mind all day. I was just hoping that the guys could pull it out,” Hornburg recalled. “It was frustrating. After that final drive when we didn’t get in and didn’t get the win, it just really hit me. I was standing there thinking this could be the end of my season.

“Sitting on that sideline knowing I should’ve been out there, that was so tough.”

Some favorable news came Sunday. Despite dropping their final two games of the regular season, the Skiers (6-3) learned they had accrued enough wild-card points to clinch a sixth consecutive playoff berth.

A familiar face will be in the backfield when No. 15 Aspen visits second-seeded Eaton (9-0) on Saturday. Hornburg, sporting a bulky brace on his left leg during Thursday’s practice, has been cleared to play.

“He’s had a really tough season, and it’s pretty exciting to have him back,” Aspen head coach Mike Sirko said. “It really helps having him around, another senior who has been in the program. I know he’s excited for the opportunity.”

Added Hornburg, “I’m a little bit out of shape – I haven’t ran in four weeks – but it feels good to be back out here with these guys. They were able to do just enough to allow me to play in at least one more game. I’m really grateful.”

The Skiers coaches weren’t sure when – or if – they’d get their standout back. A season filled with much promise took a drastic turn early in Sept. 28’s game in Olathe, when Hornburg was tackled and landed awkwardly.

He immediately knew something was wrong.

“It was like the second drive of the game, and I got horse-collared and bent over, and my knee got caught underneath me,” said Hornburg, who also missed Sept. 14’s game against Pagosa Springs with a lower back contusion. “I felt a little bit of a pop, and there was some sharp pain, but I had it checked out, started moving around, and the trainer said I could play through it.”

He stayed on the field, spearheading a 38-14 victory with a career-high 265 yards rushing and two touchdowns – including a 70-yard, third-quarter scoring scamper that put the game out of reach.

The swelling in his left knee didn’t subside in the coming days, so Hornburg had an MRI on Oct. 3. Tests revealed he had a partial tear in his meniscus.

He had surgery the next morning.

“Going into it, I didn’t know if they would cut it out or stitch it up. If they had to stitch it up, I would’ve been out for the season for sure,” Hornburg said. “They ended up cutting out a tear, so that was good news.”

Hornburg watched Oct. 5’s homecoming rout of Gunnison from a wheelchair.

In the weeks since, he has been working diligently with a physical therapist.

“The initial part of PT was tough because I didn’t see much improvement,” Hornburg said. “Lately, it’s been a lot more promising. I was riding a bike to get the movement back, and now I’m working on agility and checking the stability of the knee.

“I was planning on being back the week of Basalt – that was the target – but I wasn’t as far along as I wanted to be. That was frustrating.”

The Skiers missed Hornburg against their downvalley rivals. Senior Dan Schwartz had a strong night with 161 yards, but Aspen could muster just a field goal in the 7-3 loss.

“There’s no doubt he definitely would’ve made a difference against Grand Valley and especially against Basalt,” Sirko said. “When you look at all the great backs in college and the pros, they always say those guys have their own blocker because they can make at least one defender miss. Casey has that kind of ability. He makes things happen.”

Aspen is hoping he can make things happen Saturday against the heavily favored Reds.

While it remains to be seen how much Hornburg will play, the initial returns have been positive. He has practiced every day this week.

“It’s going to come down to how he looks and feels. We’re not quite sure what kind of condition he’s in yet,” Sirko said. “I know how Casey can run when he’s at the top of his game. I want to make sure he can do that. We want to make sure we do what’s best for him and the team.”

Added Hornburg, “I’m sore everywhere else – my knee probably feels better than everything. I was worried about it every time I ran Monday and Tuesday, but it feels better and it’s not on my mind.

“It’s going to be interesting and a lot of fun. I’m hoping to be out there a lot.”

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