By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s had big-time players recruited by the nation’s top coaches before, but Lakota West coach Larry Cox has never had a high-profile player make his college choice as early as running back Mikel Horton has. One of Ohio’s best players, and one of the nation’s premier backs, ended his college recruitment Saturday when he gave his verbal pledge to Kentucky.
“My recruitment is totally shut down. I am finished. My school is picked. I am a man of my word and I am going to Kentucky,” said Horton.
That’s the policy Cox plans to enforce, too, when coaches inquire about Horton.
“I told him when coaches come in and say they want to talk to Horton, I am telling them no,” Cox said. “Of all the players I’ve had, this is the earliest commitment from a marquee player and now we have to manage it the right way.”
Cox had no problem with Horton making an early decision because he felt Horton was sold on UK.
“I think it is really, really important that kids make the decision because that’s the school he likes the most and feels the most at home,” Cox said. “He sort of said that same thing back to me. He said, ‘Coach, I think they want me the most. You just get that feeling.’ He’s putting his faith in coach (Mark) Stoops to get things going in a different direction and is sold on the vision of the program. I told him he couldn’t make a bad decision with the offers he had, but to make the one he felt best about and that’s what he told me this was.”
Cox said Horton has the size, speed and versatility to give any offense a different dimension.
“They talk about a triple threat player in basketball, but that’s what he is in football. He can block, catch and run. How do you game plan for that? You can’t say a little back is in so they are going to run or throw because he can’t block,” Cox said. “We run a very similar offense to what they will at Kentucky. It’s a tempo offense. When you can leave a big back in there like that, you are unlimited in what you can do.”
Horton admitted that new offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s fast tempo offense was a big part of his decision to pick UK.
“Coach Brown talked about me playing as a freshman and that got my mind back on Kentucky,” Horton said. “He told me I was a complete back he could use in any situation. That’s another reason I chose Kentucky. The downhill running scheme is big for me. Playing in the SEC is very big. It’s the mini-NFL. My goal is to go to the NFL, so getting early playing time helps you to do that.
“I also felt at home with the fans. I have family in Newport (Ky.) and in Alabama. That was part of it. But I just felt at home at Kentucky. I wanted coaches who care, and that definitely influenced my decision. I’m really big on atmosphere. I don’t care about buildings or records.”
Horton’s weight had dropped to about 220 pounds during track season, but he hopes to be at 225 for football season.
“I always train hard for football. My father always had me work on catching the ball and footwork,” Horton, who plans to graduate in December and then enroll at UK, said. “I have been working for this for a long time. I can run faster than most people think. I can run a 4.5 (second 40-yard dash). At camp, a lot of linebackers could not catch me. That’s a big advantage with my size and speed.”