Greg Growden | August 27, 2009 rugbyheaven.com.au
James Horwill has always been an effervescent, gregarious character.
That’s why the Wallabies second-rower and Queensland captain is known to all as Big Kev. Big Kev? In Queensland, where Horwill was born, Big Kev would invade the local television screens, selling a variety of cleaning products, the knockabout ending his spiel with a guttural ”I’m excited”.
When Big Kev was in his prime, Horwill was at school, and his mates soon noticed the similarities. ”I was about 14 or 15 and a group of guys always thought I was very excitable, running around and smiling all the time,” Horwill said yesterday. ”This was when Big Kev was on TV and you know his catchcry. Well, that was it. I became known as Big Kev. I don’t really mind it as a nickname. I’ve heard of far worse.”
One good reason it has stuck is that Horwill is still pretty much an excitable character. This has led to trouble on the representative rugby field, with his enthusiasm, particularly at the breakdown, turning him into a target for referees, while his lust for life makes him one of the more entertaining Wallabies.
But Horwill has been forced to temper his behaviour somewhat, especially when in just his third season of Super Rugby he was elevated to Queensland skipper – a difficult position in a troubled province. That means acting responsibly. A tricky proposition for an extroverted 24-year-old.
Still, underneath it all, a lot of the big kid, or big Kev, remains.
”I always enjoy what I am doing and make the most of it because I know you’re not here for a very long time,” Horwill said. ”I really enjoy what I do with the Wallabies and I guess that shows off in the way I am.
”Maybe that’s why I am more of an outdoors person. I can’t sit still, so I love going to the beach. I can’t surf unfortunately but I love going out on boats. I try and fish but my patience isn’t the best. And I pretty much love anything with an engine on it, so yeah, I’m a bit of a rev-head at heart.”
Like several other Wallabies from Queensland, Horwill’s footballing prowess is not restricted to rugby. His family football roots are in AFL. His parents are from Victoria, with his father Rod a committed Melbourne supporter until moving to Queensland converted him to the Brisbane Lions.
Not surprisingly, the family had him attempting to play AFL. ”I grew up playing AFL,” Horwill said. ”In my younger years I was a ruckman, then went on to be a centre half-forward and full-forward. It was when I went to Brisbane Boys College that I started playing rugby because it was the thing to do. I haven’t looked back since.
”Originally, I was a little fat kid and played prop for a couple of years. Then I shot up, which I was happy about because I wasn’t too pumped about playing in the front row for the rest of my life.”
From his mid-teens, Horwill specialised as a second-rower, leading to selection in representative age teams, including the Australian under-21s, and just two years ago he became a Reds regular. In only his second representative season he also became a Wallaby. The fast-tracking continued last season when, despite the team having several experienced players, he was named Reds skipper.
”To be given the captaincy was an enormous moment, especially as you know the role has involved some of Australia’s greats. It is still a very humbling experience.
”Where we are at Queensland is not where we want to be and the challenge for me is to try to get the province to where it used to be. And we know we can do that. It’s been interesting and there’s still a lot of hard work to come.
”As a captain you do try to be the same person but you have to be aware that people are watching what you do all the time, and, with young players, you must make certain that you’re setting the right example.” That means not always being excited. Big Kev can handle that.