By LARRY VAUGHT
He was ranked as the No. 3 prospect in Ohio and No. 12 running back in the nation by Rivals.com after his career at Lakota West High School that ended with him rushing for 1,203 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013.
Yet Kentucky freshman running back Mike Horton admits he’s learned a lot about himself and his game since he enrolled at UK in January and went through spring practice after graduating early from high school.
“I feel like I have improved a lot as far as pace of the game and things like that. There is a lot I can learn still, but spring was a learning experience for me and is going to help me a lot in the fall. It is great, especially with (assistant) coach (Vince) Marrow and my friends here going through the same thing as far as learning. I am taking it a step at a time.
“It is tougher physically than I imagined. The SEC is always tough and makes you grow up fast. You are tested very quickly when you get here. That is one thing I learned very fast is that you have to be tough, you have to be physical every play. It is a man-type atmosphere. If you are not ready for it, don’t join it. If you are not ready for the SEC, don’t come. You have to be mentally prepared.”
Horton admits he had “no clue” about how difficult it would be physically at UK when he was being recruited and helping persuade other top players to join him at UK.
“Literally, I was just talking for the hype when I was a recruit. But it opened my eyes when I got here. There is so much talent here it is ridiculous. There is so much physicality here it is ridiculous. So much good players that just needed the right players and right guidance to be great and the coaches here now are doing it. They are focusing on every detail. They are very disciplined and they didn’t have that when (former UK coach) Joker (Phillips) was here. Joker was a great coach, I will have to give him that, but they just didn’t have the discipline part of it then.”
“Now that I have seen it, I know I was wrong. I wasn’t here. I hadn’t seen it. I knew my class was going to come in and do great, but I didn’t see what they had here already. What they have here is special. They needed us, but they just needed the right coach to guide them in the right way. We have it here now.”
Kentucky running backs coach Chad Scott says that attitude shows the maturity Horton, who chose UK over Florida State, Louisville, Michigan State and Vanderbilt, has gained.
“One thing good about him is that he is very honest with himself. He spoke the same language to me early on in spring ball. It has helped him. That’s why he went through a lull a little bit to start out and was not playing as fast or feeling as confident as he thought he was in himself. That’s why in late spring were his best days since he had been here,” Scott said.
Horton is competing with sophomore JoJo Kemp, transfer Braylon Heard and rehabilitated Josh Clemons who is coming off two injuries for playing time.
“That is why spring ball is good for a lot of freshman that want to come in and play. You get a chance to go through spring ball and see exactly where you are. The bonus of it is you still have a summer to go through and then fall camp to go through. The goal for him is to continue to do well and have something to build on in the summer and fall,” Scott said.
Horton says he has got plenty of help since arriving at Kentucky.
“We are all a family. I love them all. Each one is teaching me different things, especially coach Scott. He has been there for me since day one, him and coach Neal (Brown). One of the hardest coaches I have seen in my life, but they do it for a reason to make you better,” Horton said. “They have been hard on me for every detail. Every small thing, every missed step. I have never had that before and I am so happy for that. I have never had that before and it is going to make me a better player, especially if I go to the NFL.
“I feel like I am gaining on my conditioning and doing well. In high school you would walk back to the huddle and take a breather. But not here. We are a fast paced offense. It is actually overexaggerated as far as the speed of the game and lining up quickly. It is helping me out. I would be ready to play now if I could.
“Not that I need to get much stronger, but coach Scott preaches certain techniques every day. You can’t have a bad day. A lazy practice to him is a walk through and not making a right cut or something. He talks to us about being precise. It is so different than high school.”
Horton wants to do more than just work on his football skills this summer, too.
“I want to get my Master’s and also get better watching film and getting the playbook down even more. So there’s plenty for me to do academically as well as athletically,” he said. “I am going to be busy all summer.”