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After Long Ride, Horton Meets Destination


Training camp comes and goes every season and no matter how talented some players are, a team just doesn't have enough room on its squad to keep them all. It's the business of the NFL, and it's also what makes professional football so competitive. With roster spots so difficult to come by, only the best players survive.

Rookie cornerback Jason Horton never had any doubts that he was a very good player, but he knew how the NFL worked. He knew that when the numbers game takes over, it usually doesn't favor undrafted rookie free agents.

For whatever reason though, Horton still battled. He came to practice everyday with a positive attitude and confident he would at least make the Packers' decision a difficult one if they felt they had to let him go.

It didn't take long for coaches to see exactly why they signed Horton in the first place. His speed jumped out right away and his size, at nearly 6-1 and 193 pounds, is prototypical for his cornerback position. With measurements like that, it makes you wonder how Horton could ever be a long shot.

Horton acknowledged, however, that after signing with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League and not getting a chance to play, people would view him as if he came out of nowhere.

"Before I came here I felt capable of making the football team, but I did know that the odds and the chances were slim, especially because of the situation that I came from," Horton explained. "I look at this opportunity as a blessing and also as a right time-right situation. I was lucky."

The situation that Horton speaks about is a long story, but it's also one that needs to be explained in order to see just how far he has come.

After Horton led the state of North Carolina in interceptions with 13 his senior season in high school, he opted to stay close to home and attend the University of North Carolina. After only one season in which he started three games, Horton decided to transfer. In 2001, he landed at North Carolina A&T State, a Division I-AA school -- not exactly a powerhouse program on the national scene.

Yet Horton showed his playmaking skills early and often as a sophomore and junior. He finished with 11 interceptions in two seasons, but that is when the situation got stickier.

He decided to enter the NFL Draft, but his agent at the time failed to file the proper paperwork. Horton lost his college eligibility and was forced to turn to the CFL. Playing in Canada turned out to be a pit stop as well; Horton wanted a shot at the NFL.

The Packers gave him that shot this summer and Horton admitted that his situation wasn't exactly the blueprint in making an NFL roster.

"Talent wise, no, I never felt I was a long shot," Horton recalled. "I know the situation I was in and I know the game. I know sometimes people can get cut even when they play well. Sometimes hard work isn't enough when you come through the back door as an NFL player like I did."

Horton was ready to put the draft and agent mix-up behind him. He didn't blame the hand he was dealt solely on the agent and he made it known that he wasn't bitter about the business.

"I never said the agent prevented me from having a high draft status," Horton explained. "I heard several things. I don't really know what it was. I never got a definite answer. I moved on to step B. I heard this, I heard that and like I said, I moved on to step B. It made me humble."

"Step B" came in the form of the Green Bay Packers and Horton was happy to have an opportunity, regardless of how it would turn out.

"I was very appreciative of this place," Horton said. "I've always thanked the Green Bay organization for giving me an opportunity, that's all I wanted anyway. I'm very appreciative of that."

To say Horton was relieved when he made the final roster on September 5 is a severe understatement. Horton acknowledged that although he had a good camp, he didn't know if it would be enough.

"Oh yeah, I was definitely nervous," Horton said. "As an athlete, there is no guarantee, I don't care how hard you play. There's not a guarantee for anyone on this team, we are all trying to make it, so I was nervous."

Horton said now that he has found a role on the team he is ready to show his strengths and the team must be ready as well. He was on the active roster for last Sunday's game against the Bears.

"Ever since high school I've had to guard the best receiver on the other team," Horton said. "In college I had to do it too, so I'm used to it. Man-to-man, that's what I like.

Now I'm more comfortable to do that here. I know the plays and once you know the plays and all the defensive checks you feel more comfortable."

Most likely, "comfortable" is a word Horton hasn't used over the last few years. At the same time, that just makes his situation even more rewarding.

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