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The Daily Wildcat

 

Horton relishes leadership role

Mike+Christy+%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AThe+Wildcats+downed+the+Lumberjacks+34-17+Saturday+night+at+Arizona+Stadium.
Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat The Wildcats downed the Lumberjacks 34-17 Saturday night at Arizona Stadium.

There’s just something about him.

Whether he walks into a team meeting, a defensive huddle or a media interview, whoever is present is immediately put at ease by the cool, relaxing smile defensive tackle Donald Horton flashes.

“”Donald, man, he just encourages us all the time,”” senior safety Cam Nelson said. “”He always tells us, ‘Don’t take things for granted,’ and stuff like that. He reminds us that there are people that wish they could do what we do.””

Horton has been a solid contributor on the field since his freshman season, but it’s what he does off the field that has made him so popular on the team.

“”He’s just a good, solid leader,”” defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said. “”He’s a great person. He’s an inspiration to a lot of us in the way he handles himself and the way he conducts himself. He’s just a solid player and a solid person.””

So how does the man himself feel about being a key player both on and off the field? It’s pretty simple, actually: it’s not a burden, not an extra responsibility and not anything new — it’s just Donald being Donald.

“”To be put (in a leadership role) is pretty cool,”” Horton said after Wednesday’s practice. “”It just shows that the hard work paid off. I’ve always felt like I worked hard on the field and tried to do my best, but this year I’m the old guy on the team and I have to insert myself to be the best leader possible.””

Being the guy that players gravitate toward and look up to is an honor in itself, but Horton is a special case because he’s been able to effectively lead by example.

As a defensive tackle, he rarely lights up the stat sheet — he has just five total tackles this season and one sack — but his ability to do different things on the field might help the team more than collecting 10 tackles a game.

“”His versatility is unbelievable. He can do so many different things inside for us,”” defensive tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo said. “”He’s very quick, he’s explosive and he’s low to the ground, which is what you look for in a defensive lineman.””

Horton is officially listed as a defensive tackle, but such a limiting title could be considered an insult. In addition to his traditional 4-3 formation defensive tackle spot alongside senior Earl Mitchell, the DeSoto, Texas native has lined up at nose tackle and even started the Oregon State game at defensive end in place of an injured Brooks Reed.

And at 275 pounds, all of his playing time pits him against much larger players.

“”Donald has just been a reliable guy since he’s been here,”” head coach Mike Stoops said. “”He’s very versatile. He’s undersized but it hasn’t been a factor in his play.

“”He’s matched up with most people he plays against and he probably gives away 20, 25, maybe 30 pounds,”” Stoops added. “”He’s a good athlete and a little bit undersized, but his athleticism makes up for it. He’s got a big heart, too.””

It seems that Horton can’t be mentioned without adding what an outstanding person and leader he is — and that’s no accident.

Horton embodies the type of player the Stoops regime has tried to recruit from the beginning — perhaps not an elite talent coming out of high school, but someone who works hard and does things the right way.

“”You need more and more of those kinds of guys with that kind of leadership and that kind of character,”” Mark Stoops said. “”When you start getting more and more guys like that, it really helps the program.””

And on a personal level, it all comes full circle for Horton. After playing in a rotational role during his first three years at Arizona, he’s now the full-time starter and leader that he always hoped to be.

“”As far as my role and what I’ve been doing,”” Horton said, “”I’m pretty proud of myself.””

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