TENAHA -- Craig Horn couldn't bear to be home on Thursday.

If Tenaha hadn't beaten Burton this past week in the state semifinal, Horn would be kicking himself. Thankfully, the Tigers left no doubt as they defeated Burton, 60-22 to secure their trip to Arlington. Now, Horn watches as the Tigers practice in a light drizzle on Monday, preparing for a matchup with Muenster in the state championship at 11 a.m. on Thursday.

Horn has three sons on the team. There is CJ, a senior and the starting quarterback for the Tigers, as well as Cahl, a sophomore who plays primarily on special teams. Then, there is Onterio Thompson, who despite having a different last name, is family all the same.

Horn said though he wants to win a state championship, he can be at ease knowing that he has taken his team to the final game. Whether Tenaha wins or loses, he won't have to wonder what it would be like to watch his sons play in a state championship.

The past three seasons have been special for Horn. He moved to Tenaha from Hubbard to become the coach of the Tigers in 2015. Hubbard is where he met Thompson, who then was just a sixth grader who needed help.

Thompson was in the same grade as CJ and knew the Horns for most of his life. His father died when he was about two months old and he spent most of his early life living with his grandmother. At Hubbard, it was Horn's job to make sure Thompson behaved. He would enforce this by rewarding him with a trip to football practice.

Thompson began staying weekends with the Horns. The stays grew longer, extending to Monday and Tuesday before he eventually was living full time with them. By the time Thompson was in eighth grade, the Horns officially adopted him.

“He’s the brother I never had," CJ said. "When he came into our life, it changed things. But I’ve enjoyed it.”

They grew closer but when the move happened in 2015, Horn gave Thompson a choice.

"You obviously have the opportunity to move back in with your grandmother, but we don’t want you to feel like you’re being left behind," he told him. "You have the option to continue to live with us.”

Thompson didn't hesitate. He packed his bags and moved to Tenaha.

It turned out to be a great decision for everyone. Thompson is one of the premier players on a Tenaha team that has won its playoff games by 48.6 points on average. A running back, he has 2,462 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns this season.

Meanwhile, CJ has thrown for 2,795 yards and 38 touchdowns to only three interceptions. The two are almost always on the same page on the field, even if that page is the wrong one.

“Sometimes, we’ll both mess up," Thompson said. "The linemen we’ll see us do one thing wrong and me and (CJ) will be on the same page.”

The bond grew even stronger when Thompson suffered a broken leg in eighth grade. He wore a giant cast and the family had to help him complete everyday tasks.

"When you’ve got to carry a naked man to the toilet and stick him in the shower, you build some bonds for sure," Horn said.

Horn never envisioned coaching his kids, despite being a coach for 17 years, almost as long as both CJ and Thompson have been alive. Whatever they decided to do, he would have supported. It just so happened they were pretty good at football.

“I really always have been one of those guys that I just wanted my kids to be normal," Horn said. "I wanted 10 fingers, 10 toes. I wanted the intelligence to be within the parameters of normal. I wasn’t asking for Albert Einstein. I wasn’t asking for Peyton Manning or LeBron James. I just wanted them to be normal kids."

He got normal and then some.

Tenaha running back Onterio Thompson breaks free for a 63-yard touchdown in the Tigers' 59-0 win over Timpson, Thursday in their Class 2A Division II Region III final in Carthage. (© ETSN.fm)
Tenaha running back Onterio Thompson was adopted by the Horn family and considers quarterback CJ Horn a brother.

When Horn arrived at Tenaha, the only thing keeping the Tigers from greatness was their lack of a quarterback. He didn't think CJ, who had never played quarterback would fit the bill. But the other coaches wanted to give it a try.

It turned out to be a savvy move.

"He does better when I don’t interact with him as quarterback," Horn said. "I’m a defensive guy and I tend to focus on the things that are going to affect us defensively. Sometimes that’s not quarterback play. I think I’ve learned to be a lot more appreciative of the things he’s capable of doing.

"I’ve had years where I didn’t have good quarterbacks. It’s been tough. CJ obviously can play. Onterio is having a great year as well. I’ve learned to be a lot more appreciative of being able to be around him day in and day out and see the things he can do."

All three said winning on Thursday would make this season their favorite memory of playing together. Thompson even knows what he will do after the victory.

“I’m partying for a fact," he said. "Find me a girl or something. I’m playing about the girl, but I might party.”

As Horn's time on the field with two of his sons (he has four more kids who haven't reached high school) comes to a close, he has learned a lot. Most importantly, he said, he has learned to take a backseat. He enjoys watching his kids take instruction from others.

"I know he’s going to be able to translate that in the real world when it comes to whatever profession he chooses," Horn said. "He’s going to have to be able to learn and take direction from his superirors. It’s easy to jump up and mow the yard when your dad says so, but being able to learn from other people and be productive is the most rewarding thing I’ve taken.”

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