‘Smart’ Horton gives UNLV safety net at loaded position

Incoming freshmen are supposed to listen, not lead.

But there was Shane Horton in UNLV football practice Friday, watching position coach Vic Shealy explain the safeties’ assignments on a just-completed play, then turning around to break things down further for walk-on Earl Barnes.

“We knew he was a sharp guy, but we have been amazed at how football smart he is and how thirsty he is to learn and how coachable he is,” co-defensive coordinator Shealy said of Horton, who played quarterback and wide receiver at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

“That’s one of the advantages of having quarterbacks that come over to safety. They have that handle on the big picture of the game.”

The 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound Horton was ranked the nation’s No. 74 safety by Scout.com coming out of high school, and Rivals.com pegged him as the country’s No. 45 athlete.

UCLA offered a scholarship, but not until signing day in February. Washington wanted Horton to come in and grayshirt — not enroll until January — but later offered a traditional scholarship, recruiting him as a quarterback. Oregon offered late and wanted Horton at wide receiver.

Of the three, only UCLA wanted him at safety. All were behind UNLV in making a strong pitch, and even the lure of playing at a Pacific-10 Conference school wasn’t strong enough to sway Horton from the Rebels.

“I wasn’t at the top of the list” with the other schools, Horton said. “You want to go somewhere where they want you, where you’re really loved. That’s what I felt when I came here, like I was one of the top guys that they wanted.

“I get to go out and play with a little chip on my shoulder, show them what they’re missing out on. I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’m 100 percent happy with my decision here. I’m ready to turn this program.”

UNLV, which opens Aug. 30 at Utah State and is coming off three consecutive two-win seasons, could use him despite being loaded at safety.

Senior Tony Cade and sophomore Daryl Forte are listed as the starters, and sophomore Michael Johnson played immediately last season. Also, incoming freshman Rico Thomas has the advantage of having gone through spring practices.

But Horton isn’t a typical recruit. With defensive end Larry Dennis not expected to play this season because of academic issues, Horton now becomes the gem of this year’s recruiting class.

“We have high expectations that he’ll contribute as a freshman,” Shealy said. “We kind of expected that when we recruited and signed him. We saw core athletic ability on tape.

“When he comes in, athletically there’s no disappointment. He looks very fluid and very athletic, but the game is so much faster and so much more physical, it’s a huge adjustment that he still has to make ahead of him, but he’s so hungry.”

Hungry enough to push himself and others, as that simple act of mentoring in practice showed.

“If everybody has that mentality,” Horton said, “to come out and they want to win and they want to lead and they do whatever it takes to get on the same page, then no one’s going to be able to stop you.”

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