Before the 2014 U.S. Army All American Bowl kicked off on Jan. 4, 500 of the nation’s top high school underclassmen gathered in San Antonio, Texas, for the All-American National Combine.
Mallard Creek High junior wide receiver Kyle Horton was one of a handful of local kids invited to the combine who made the trip.
This was 30-catch season for Horton on the Mavericks, which won the NCHSAA state 4AA championship. And Horton– the youngest son of former Pro Bowl tight end Ethan Horton – attended the combine in hopes of catching a coach’s eye and expanding his college options.
Kyle Horton, who already has offers to play for Charlotte and Elon, turned in a solid performance; he ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.37 seconds) of the morning session and second-fastest time overall.
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Horton also recorded a 4.24-second pro shuttle time and showed off a 31-inch vertical jump.
“The experience was really humbling,” the younger Horton said. “Just being around the top athletes and coaches was a special experience. It was good to see that I competed and had success at the combine. It was exciting to know that kids were from all over, and that I was able compete side-by-side with some of the best players in the nation.”
At 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, Horton projects as a slot receiver at the college level, and he has the ability to return punts and kickoffs as well.
Horton’s interest in football started at an early age. He benefited from watching his father work with his older brother, Jay (who graduated last year), on the fundamentals of the game.
“I really didn’t force (Jay or Kyle) to play football – or to play sports, period,” said Ethan Horton, who was drafted 15th overall out of North Carolina in 1985.
“When my oldest son (Jay) was 7, he asked me to help him. And I thought about it a lot before I told him that if we were going to do it, then we were going to do it my way.”
Horton emphasizes to his sons the importance of developing a solid skill set, putting equal emphasis on the physical and mental aspects of football.
“I only know one way to make it in football,” Ethan Horton said, “And that was the way I did it. I’ve just tried to instill the work ethic, determination and knowledge I was able to gain through playing at the highest level to them.”
As his brother and dad spent hours out on the fields, Kyle Horton watched from the sidelines and participated when possible to soak up as much as he could.
“I called Kyle ‘the tag-along kid,’ ” his father said. “He was there and was a part of those coaching sessions and workout sessions.”
From the time Kyle Horton was 5 years old until he graduated the eighth grade, he had his father and his father’s friends as coaches.
Former NFL cornerback Larry Griffin, who played for the Houston Oilers and Pittsburgh Steelers during his career, coached the team’s defense, while Ethan Horton diagrammed the offense.
Having never had a chance to see his father play professionally, Kyle Horton would listen to the stories Griffin told his time at UNC with the elder Horton.
And since Ethan Horton is a running back instructor for Football University, which is an invitation-only football camp run by the creators of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Horton was able to see his son compete at the combine.
“I was very excited to be there and close to things that were taking place,” the elder Horton said. “Kyle has put a lot of work into football, and I’ve kind of taken a back seat and tried to share information with him. If this is what he wants, I know how it’s got to be done.”
With his senior year coming up, Kyle Horton certainly has the skills to perform.
“My showing at the combine gave me a lot of confidence,” Horton said. “It was only a select few from this area that were invited, and knowing that I was one of them just makes me want to compete that much harder so that I can show that I’m one of the best in this region.”