by Faith Price, Assistant Director
Nearly 100 middle and high school students, parents, and chaperones traveled to Washington State University to attend the 6th annual Native Youth Sports Summit and Native American Appreciation Day basketball game on January 28. Attendees came from as far away as Nooksack, Lyle, Inchelium, Toppenish, Cusick, and Lapwai.
One of the highlights of this year’s Sports Summit was the opportunity to hear from Northern Cheyenne tribal member Levi Horn whose athletic career took him all the way to the NFL. Horn spent two years with the Chicago Bears, followed by a short stint with the Minnesota Vikings. Now he works for the Native Project in Spokane as a substance abuse counselor.
Horn emphasized to the audience the importance of making good choices, setting goals, and being resilient. Making it to the NFL was not easy.
Horn had the size and ability from a young age to be an amazing football player. In middle school, he was 6’4” and 240 pounds – too big to play football against other kids his age.
At the beginning of his high school football career at Rogers High School in Spokane, he was nearly kicked off the football team because of the bad decisions he was making at the time. Horn told the group he had a friend who was dragging him down.
“A decision I made in the ninth grade not to kick it with him anymore changed my life,” said Horn.
His high school coach could already see his potential and told him if he wanted to play in the NFL, he needed to make better choices. Horn said he decided, “I choose football.”
However, even with his size and evident talent, Horn lacked the confidence to think he could pursue a career in football. Negative people around him did not help.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me I couldn’t make it. And I believed them,” said Horn.
One pivotal night, though, he received a recruitment call from Minot State in North Dakota. Horn remembered thinking it was his friends playing a prank on him. The coach managed to convince him it was for real, telling him, “Levi, you’re going to play college football somewhere and we want it to be here.”
“That moment changed my future because I never thought I was going to go to college,” said Horn.
His senior year of high school, he began to set goals. He scrambled to take all the classes he needed to make sure he qualified for the NCAA. In the end, with scholarship offers from multiple universities, Horn elected to go to the University of Oregon.
At Oregon, self-doubt continued to haunt him.
“I didn’t believe that I could go to college and do the work,” said Horn.
He wanted to make his family and Native people proud, but the pressure of carrying so many people’s expectations started to hit him. He became depressed and found himelf, “hanging with hoodlums who weren’t even in college.”
At the end of his freshman year, the University of Oregon told him he either needed to transfer or he would be kicked off the team. He ended up transferring to the University of Montana and began setting goals again.
“It was hard,” said Horn. “Being a collegiate athlete is intensive.”
The first game he got playing time, four people had to get hurt before he got to play. However, he worked hard on his goals and by his junior year was the starting left tackle. He began to set bigger goals of being the best in the conference, and going to the NFL.
Horn urged the crowd not to give up on their dreams or settle for mediocrity.
“We get in that thinking, ‘this is good enough,’” said Horn. He is thankful for the many mentors he had that encouraged him to think bigger and believe in himself.
“I did not go to the NFL by myself.”
At one point when he was at “rock bottom” as a freshman at Oregon, Horn said he started praying. His prayer was something along the lines of:
“Creator, if you get me to the NFL, I will do whatever you want,” said Horn.
Well, he got to the NFL, and it appears the Creator wanted to continue to use him to inspire youth. He is currently finishing his education, working as a substance abuse counselor, and traveling the nation sharing his journey with Native youth. We appreciated the opportunity to host him at Washington State University!
In addition to hearing from Horn, the WSU Native Student Ambassadors shared their experiences as college students and gave advice for future students. Immediately following the Sports Summit, participants went to Beasley Coliseum for the 7th annual Native American Appreciation Day women’s basketball game, a collaboration between WSU Native American Programs and Athletics.
The game featured the WSU Native community, as well as guests from the region. The national anthem sung in Salish by LaRae Wiley director of the Salish School of Spokane. Elsie Cree (Yakama/Nez Perce), a senior in Elementary Education, danced for the half time entertainment. The first 400 fans received T-shirts that said Go Cougs in the Nez Perce language. Kúutx K’oy’am’á!