Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 4/12/13
Defensive End Wes Horton experienced USC with Pete Carroll at the height of his powers to being ineligible and having to bounce back from NCAA sanctions he had no role in acquiring.  He's kept a positive attitude through all of it and looks to find more success in the postseason in the NFL.  He discusses his time at USC, his athletic family, his development, and what he offers teams in the NFLPeter Smith: How did you end up choosing USC?Wes Horton: I went to SC probably most importantly because it was close to home.  I definitely wanted to be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour away from my fam, because my family is most important to me.  Just going down and seeing Coach Carroll and the Trojan family and seeing what they were all about; seeing their philosophy on ball and why they’re having so many years of great success with competition and the great players that came through SC.  That time period, I bought into how and why they were having a lot of success, so it was a no-brainer for me.PS: Did you grow up an SC fan?WH: No, I was actually a Bruin fan.  My dad (Mike Horton) went to UCLA and played football there, so I was pretty much a UCLA fan my whole life.  Things changed as I got older.  I was just more open to different schools.  I wasn’t just all about UCLA.  I went to SC and saw what they were all about.  My parents weren’t telling me “No, you have to go to UCLA.”  They left it up to me and that’s what I decided to do?PS: How did the decision to go to UCLA’s main rival go over over at home?WH: It wasn’t too bad.  My dad, to this day, will never wear any cardinal and gold, any kind of SC t-shirts or anything of that nature.  He was behind me 100%.  He knew it was the right fit for me.  I think it played out well.PS: UCLA-USC game; who was he rooting for?WH: He always said SC, but deep down it could be something different because he was a Bruin.  That’s his team.  I know he wants his son to win the game and do well, but deep down, it could be something different.PS: Your junior year, when SC beat UCLA 50-0, did your dad die a little inside?WH: Yea (laughs).  You should’ve seen him after that game.  He was pretty much speechless.  He had never been so disappointed about UCLA athletics in his entire life, so he was definitely pretty down on himself.PS: When you came into USC, your red shirt year, they went 12-1 with a Rose Bowl victory and Pete Carroll was at the height of his powers.  What was your attitude going into your first season playing?WH: Just the competition level and the pace of the game was so much faster and just better coming from high school when you’re the most dominant player on the field, making plays left and right.  The speed of the game was a bit of a shock to me.  Obviously, eventually you pick up on it.  When you have the best players in the country at every position banging real hard at practice, it’s definitely something you have to get used to, but with the coaches we have at SC, it’s real easy to pick up on the techniques that you need to get better and as your time goes on, you get better.PS: Was there a sense of ‘it was your turn to go get yours’ with all the success USC had been experiencing?WH: Yea.  That was the confidence that not only Coach Carroll had but the players as well; we knew week in, week out, even Coach Carroll would say; our scout team, our service team was giving us better a look in practice than we should see in the games, so the games should be easy.  That’s kind of the approach we took and we knew how hard we worked in practice matched with the skill sets we had at every position that we knew were going to go in and pretty much dominate every game and if we didn’t win a game, it was because we were our beating ourselves.PS: What was the feeling when you won the Emerald Bowl?  And how does it feel looking back on it now?WH: I mean it was a little bit of a rough season.  We obviously thought we were going to come back the following year and possibly go undefeated or maybe lose one or two games.  It was a little bit of a rocky season, but to end that season with a win, we obviously went out on a positive note.  Obviously after the season when Coach Carroll left, it was pretty devastating.  Everyone wanted him to stay.  It was definitely a shock to everyone.  When Kiff (Coach Lane Kiffin), you try to pick up where he left off, where Coach Carroll left off.PS: You mentioned Pete Carroll leaving; talk about being part of the class that was punished for actions you had no partWH: Yea. I mean it was just a random day when everything got dropped on us.  Knowing that you’re not going to play in a bowl game for two years and you had three years left, it was pretty devastating.  Everyone in our class thought about transferring and some guys did; the other guys that didn’t, we decided to rally together and stick it out; do what’s best for the Trojan family.  If everyone leaves, then we’re in big trouble.  For the guys that stayed, those that were deep down Trojans, tried to find a way to make it happen.PS: After finishing 2011 10-2 and the drubbing of UCLA, what was the feeling going into 2012 with post season eligibility?WH: Everyone was real optimistic for that season.  We had a lot of returning starters coming back.  Coming off of that season, everyone was real excited.  Coach Kiffin was settling in with the players; everyone bought into his system.  Based on the year before and the Spring we had, we thought we were going to win every game.  We put in the work; it wasn’t all about the hype we were getting.  We put in the work.  Obviously, that didn’t happen.PS: Break down your game for me.WH: I feel like I’m a long levered defensive end.  I am pretty quick off the ball.  I think over the years, I\ have put together a pretty good arsenal of pass rush moves.  This past year, I wasn’t a 2-3 sack difference maker player, but I definitely was constantly in the quarterback’s face.  I was definitely a hustle player, flying to the football, making plays, batting balls down because I have long arms; just doing whatever I could to get to the ball.PS: You had 6.5 sacks this year and I saw an interview where you thought you should have had a lot more but missed opportunities.  How many do you feel like you should have had?WH: At least 12 because there were more than enough occasions where I had the quarterback and I took a bad angle or I didn’t bring my hips and explode through the quarterback or was too high.  As the years go on, you’re starting to see more of an athletic quarterback that can scramble, that can be elusive in the pocket, so it’s not the easiest thing to take down the quarterback.  Still, if I would have been in a better position angle-wise or was in a lower position, I would have had 12-13 sacks this year.PS: You’ve improved every year since you’ve been at USC but there has been this sense that you have been on the verge of breaking out that this will be the year for Wes Horton.  Is it about to happen in the NFL?WH: Obviously, the NFL, that’s another level of skill level, speed of the game; all those.  That’s a huge jump going from college to the NFL.  You only get a 53 man roster and not everyone makes it.  That’s going to be a huge adjustment for me, but I feel like with my skill set and my body type and just knowing I’m a coachable player, I feel like every offseason is huge.  How I approach whatever team I go to and how I adjust to the little coaching points and how my body continues to develop, weight-wise and strength-wise, I feel like I could be a break out player.  It might not be year one, but at some point I know I will be a dominant player in the NFL.PS: What was your attitude going into the East-West Shrine Game and what did you want to prove going into that game?WH: I just wanted to showcase that I can get to the quarterback.  I think a big drill in those All-Star games is the 1-on-1s.  I just wanted to show that I have a nasty mentality where I’m not going take crap from anyone and I’m pretty much going to dominate every 1-on-1 I go into.  I think for the most part, I did do that and was beating guys pretty well.  Showing my pass rush ability and showing I am strong enough in the run game to take on big tackles and just play violently.PS: What do you think your best is in the NFL?WH: I would probably say a 4-3 team because I have the size and the length.  I played in a 4-3 scheme in all 5 years at SC and I just think I’m starting to get the strength to play stout, to play the run game.  Obviously my pass rush moves have progressed over the years to where I feel like I can get to the quarterback at the next level.  If a team needs me to play in the 3-4 scheme that I feel like I can play it.  I’ve dropped enough at USC to where I know how to open up my hips, I know how to get out to the flat, and if I have to rush standing up, I feel like I can do that too.PS: What does the label pass rush specialist mean to you?WH: I feel like it’s a guy that comes in on those big third downs and he’s pretty much the best pass rusher on the squad.  He can come in pretty much come in and get a tackle that’s getting beat up by other ends on first and second downs.  Having you come in on a third down and pretty much flying off the edge and doing what you do; because if you’re a specialist, you’re only going to be in for maybe 18 or 19 snaps per game, so just coming in and showing an arsenal of pass rush moves and pretty much getting there around 50% of the time.PS: What’s it going to take for you to be an every down player in the NFL?WH: Just showing that I can play in the run game.  Showing the strength to not give up ground, to knock tackles back, lock them out, shed them; showing that I can get to the ball every single down and have the endurance to play 40-50 downs and just continuing to groom my pass rush moves.  Not just showing that you’re a pass rusher; that you can play on 1st and 2nd downs when teams are trying to run the ball down your throat.PS: Talk about spending most of your college career playing with brother (Shane Horton)WH: It was awesome.  Anytime you get to play with a sibling and we obviously played in high school and Pop Warner as well.  To continue that, it was awesome, being able to motivate each other in practice and even in the games; it’s not something that everyone gets to every day, but we got it for 3 or 4 years.  He’s continuing to play ball (Plays outside linebacker for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL) so we’re always going to be calling each other and seeing everything is going and continuing to motivate each other.PS: We talked about your dad earlier.  Being that he played offensive tackle, has he been able to help you at all with being a defensive end?WH: I talk to him about 2 to 3 days out of the week and he is always giving me advice; not from a technique standpoint but from what to expect in the NFL and how to carry yourself, how to handle your business. I’m sure when I have my opportunities to go back home, I’ll still train with him, he’s a personal trainer, so he knows to how to continue training me and getting me stronger.PS: Your dad at his best, who wins in a matchup between you two.WH: (Laugh) I would eat my Pop up all day.  He doesn’t have a chance.PS: Most people know that he was also Gemini on American Gladiators; point of pride or embarrassment for you?WH: I would say pride.  I know a lot of people bring it up when my name gets thrown out I guess.  I’m kind of used to it.  I think it’s cool.  It was a big show in the early 90’s.  He was in those tight spandex, whatever he was wearing.  He was tackling people and swinging on ropes or swinging or swinging on those swings and doing all kinds of crazy events.PS: You mentioned the spandex.  Does he still have them and when is the last time he threw them on?WH: (laugh) He definitely still has them.  I actually saw them, I think they are in a storage unit; I saw them in not too long ago.  He’s definitely not putting them on anytime soon,PS: Talk about what you took away from being coached by Pete Carroll.WH: He was a true player’s coach.  He was the type of guy that it didn’t matter what position you played, his knowledge of the game was so broad that he can give me little tidbits about how to play in a 5-technique.  If the tackle blocks down, how my footwork should be, how I should get my hands on the tackle.  You’d be surprised by how much he knew about all of those little things.  Just the motivational speeches he gave us, from a day to day basis, the confidence that he carried, the belief that he had in us.  Just the system that he has; he still has it up in Seattle.  I don’t think a whole lot has changed just from the players I know that are up there.  He has his system, he sticks to it.  Every single player I’m sure has bought into the philosophy he has towards winning and competing; everything is based off of competition; you go to earn your stripes.  He definitely groomed me into a better player from the time he was there until the time he left. PS: Are you surprised at all that he has had the success he has had in the NFL this time around?WH: No, not at all.   Of course not; I think with him it was just about having the right players.  At SC, he had the right players.  As good of a coach as he is, he just needs the players to go out there and execute.  Now, he obviously has the players and that’s why he is deep in the playoffs.PS: Talk about what you’ve gotten from Lane Kiffin.WH: He’s just as good; I love Coach Kiff.  I wouldn’t say he’s as much of a player’s coach, but he demands the respect from all of us and everything is more business-like with him.  Like I said, he just demands respect from us, he expects us to work at a certain level.  I thought he was a great coach.PS: Talk about playing for Monte Kiffin.WH: Monte’s cool.  He was definitely someone we can relate to, just as far as his laid back style.  He was obviously getting up there in age so he wasn’t as much of as a drill sergeant as much as some of the others coaches that we had. He was definitely someone you could talk to if you needed some advice.  Like I said about Coach Carroll, he’s been in the game so long; he knows everything about every position.  He’s constantly coaching up from a defensive end to a corner to a linebacker.  He knows it all, so it was great working with a coach that smart.PS: Talk about an assistant or a high school coach that you feel has helped you in your development.WH: Definitely my position coach, Ed Orgeron.  He definitely pushed me for the three years I had him to be a better player and never let me get complacent.  It doesn’t matter how many tackles you’re getting or the sacks you’re getting, he’s still in your face and telling you how to get better.  The personal relationship that I have with him, being able to openly talk about little techniques and what NFL rushers I would want to watch and he would have cut-ups ready for me to watch.  He was the kind of coach, that he treats his players like they were his own kids.  He cared about our success and he wanted nothing but the best for us.  I think having a coach like that, someone that cares about you that much; you’re only going to get better.PS: What does a Human Performance Major do?WH: There’s a few routes you can go; either personal training or physical therapy and I would go ahead more in the personal training route.  Having that 1-on-1 relationship with a client; I grew up in the weight room, so I think it’s kind of second nature to me.PS: Anything else you wanted to add?WH: I think the two biggest things with me are my work ethic and being a coachable player.  I think just from my time at SC and even now, I think what’s gotten me to play at a high level is how I take care of my body, the extra little workouts I get in the off season that gets me playing at a high level.  I’m putting all of my extracurricular activities to the side because this is opportunity only comes, so I’m putting all my eggs in this basket as far as football.  If it involves a boring, simple life of lifting weights, watching film, having to eat healthy, and having to do all of those little things.  I’m all about it.  That’s obviously what I’ve been doing since I got done this past season and I’m not going to stop doing it until I’m done playing ball. Horton has a great attitude as he prepares to find out his fate in the NFL Draft, but there is no doubt that drafted or as an UDFA, Wes will give everything he's got, scratching and clawing to chase after his dream of following in his father's footsteps and playing in the NFL.  Good luck to him as he chases his dream.
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