By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
RICHLANDS, Va. —
Words used to describe Michael Horton; passionate, tough, aggressive...and a future college football player.
Horton, a senior at Richlands High School, will take all of those attributes to the next level, having signed a letter of intent on Tuesday to play football at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
“It has been a dream ever since I began playing football,” Horton said. “I have always wanted to go to college and play football and it is finally here. I didn’t think it would be here this fast, but I am glad it is.”
Not only does Horton plan to play for the Highland Cavaliers, but the 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior will also prepare for his post-playing days.
“I am really excited to continue my football career and get a degree in nursing,” Horton said. “That is what I have wanted to do all my high school career is to be able to be a nurse...
“I have always had the urge to be a nurse, some of my family have been nurses and they like the career so I want to do it too.”
While always happy to see one of his players move to the next level, there is little doubt that Richlands head coach Greg Mance will miss Horton when football season begins in August.
“He is one of the top defensive players that ever played here...,” Mance said. “When I think of Michael Horton, I think of an exceptional football player, I think of a team player and I think of someone who is hard-nosed and tough.
“You can’t replace a Michael Horton. We are dearly going to miss him next year and I want to wish him the best of luck because he is one of the truly special football players to ever play here at Richlands High School.”
Horton accumulated nearly 170 tackles in two seasons as a starter at linebacker, while also contributing 10 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and three interceptions for the nine-time Southwest District champions.
He was also a three-year contributor on special teams, and was a key cog the drive to the 2010 Division 3 state championship game.
“It has been great, it has been way too short, everybody says that when they graduate from here,” Horton said. “The football program is better than anywhere around and the fan base is very supportive.”
Richlands has made a habit in recent years of sending players to the next level. Horton is the third from the current senior class, following Todd McGlothlin (Glenville State) and Corbin King (Ferrum).
“We are really excited about Michael’s potential,” Mance said. “There is no doubt he has got a chance to be an all-conference, all-America type kid at UVa-Wise at outside linebacker.”
UVa-Wise, which has been known for offense in recent years, will be making the move from the Mid-South Conference to Division II and the newly-formed Mountain East Conference for the 2013-14 season.
“I hope I will be able to help them out on defense at linebacker. They are moving to Division II so the competition is going to be a little tougher and I am looking forward to it,” said Horton, of the Cavaliers, who were 3-8 last year. “Everybody that has played there before has said (the competition is) going to change a lot this year.
“Hopefully it will be a lot better for us and I can go to Wise and help them out.”
Horton, who started at seven positions in two seasons for the Blue Tornado — and five last year alone — is expected to play linebacker at UVa-Wise.
“Just a tremendous football player on the defensive side of the football, he will go to UVa-Wise and play outside linebacker,” Mance said. “I know they are wanting him inside, but I really feel once they get him down there they are going to leave him on the outside.
“He has a chance to do some special things at both inside and outside linebacker.”
Richlands defensive coordinator Dennis Palmer called Horton ‘the most versatile player he has ever coached,’ while special teams coach Jeff Tarter spoke of the passion that Horton has for the game.
“One word basically tells you everything about him and it is passion, he loves the game,” Tarter said. “He would play if his leg was broken, if his shoulder was about to fall off, if he was dying of thirst, he would go without water and keep going.
“Day in and day out, loves the game, would do anything for it.”
Palmer added, “He is probably the most versatile that I have ever coached, he has a passion for the game...he is a tough kid and I think he is going to be very, very successful at the next level.”
If anyone enjoyed watching Horton play on the gridiron more than Mance and the rest of the Richlands faithful, it has been his father, Chris Horton, who was able to attend the ceremony on Tuesday.
“I am real proud of him,” Chris Horton said. “It was awesome, it was the highlight of the week.”
He admits that his might be a love-hate relationship with the game. He loved to watch his son play, but was always a little worried that his son might get hurt on the field.
“Oh yeah, I love to watch him and scared at the same time,” said Chris Horton, with a smile, “but I am glad he is going.”
Horton will miss playing in front of the football-crazed fans at Ernie Hicks Stadium, but hopes to find the same type of passion for football in Wise.
“(Another) reason I picked Wise is it a small town and they say the fan base is very supportive there too,” Horton said. “I hope it is just like Richlands.”
—Contact Brian Woodson