Nevada wide receiver Tory Horton admits he probably wouldn't have attended Fresno State if the school offered him a scholarship. But the fact his hometown college – Horton grew up in Fresno and attended Washington Union High – didn’t think he was good enough to be a scholarship player upset him. So last year’s epic performance against the Bulldogs, which included Horton catching five passes for 148 yards and three touchdowns in addition to recording two tackles, was extra special.
“Redemption,” Horton said of the performance. “Revenge. They pretty much forgot about me. They brushed me away. They said I wasn’t fast. They said I wasn’t big enough. It was just me going out there doing what I did. It puts a buzz in the air, and I’d love to do it again. I can't wait to play them again.”
Horton and the rest of the Wolf Pack play Fresno State again Saturday, this time at Bulldog Stadium, a place Horton grew up attending games. Fresno State wasn’t alone in its assessment Horton wasn’t an FBS player. In fact, only Nevada offered him a scholarship out of high school, and even the Wolf Pack was late to the party, not inviting Horton on an official visit until a month before signing day.
But the Wolf Pack’s faith in the 6-foot-2, 175-pound receiver has paid off. As a 17-year-old freshman last year, Horton caught 20 passes for 336 yards and five touchdowns, numbers bolstered by the breakout performance against Fresno State. And despite battling injuries this year, he’s caught 16 balls for 208 yards and one touchdown, that coming in last week’s 34-17 win against Hawaii.
Horton has quickly emerged as your favorite Wolf Pack’s player favorite player. Everybody associated with the program raves about Horton, including the team’s star quarterback, Carson Strong.
“He just a natural,” Strong said. “That's the best way I can describe him. Everything is really smooth. He's just a pure player. His routes are crisp. He's got natural hands. He tracks the ball really well. I mean, he's 18 years old. He’s going to be good. It’s kind of not fair. I don't know how this kid only had one offer. I mean, he was 17 years old last year and catching touchdowns in a Division I football game. I was 17 years old as a junior in high school. So, put that in perspective. It’s crazy.”
The praise was equally effusive from Nevada head coach Jay Norvell, who spent many years in the NFL coaching receivers, his positional specialty.
“I brag on him all the time,” Norvell said of Horton. “He's one of my favorite players. I've coached and worked with receivers a lot over the years, and he's just so business-like. For a young player, he's so mature. Very, very intelligent. Understands defenses. Understands route concepts. We can play him at every position. He's a tall, long, rangy wideout who's got a quick step and is such a long strider. He can really eat up a lot of grass and get down the field. Carson loves throwing the ball to him down the field because he has such a big radius on him.”
Horton comes from an athletic family. His father, Tim, was a talented basketball player. His brother, Timmy, serves in the Army. His sister, Jeane, was an All-American volleyball player at UTEP who plays professionally. And another brother, Tyler, was a two-time first-team All-Mountain West cornerback at Boise State. That final link paved the way for Horton’s first visit to Nevada’s campus. The last time Boise State played at Nevada – in 2018 when Tyler Horton had a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown – Tory was in attendance.
“I actually came to the Nevada game when they played Nevada,” Horton said of his 2018 visit when he was a high school junior. “When I came into the game, I never knew that I’d be at Nevada. It's just something special to think about going back to that game. I was here when my brother played against them, and it just feels nice to actually play here.”
Horton remembers going on recruiting visits with his older brother as a middle schooler. Tyler was a three-star recruit who held double-digit scholarship offers, including from Cal, Washington State and Miami (Fla.), among others. That made the younger Horton desirous of getting the same kind of attention from college programs, but it never came to fruition.
Despite a standout high school career, which included him catching 37 passes for 821 yards and 15 touchdowns for a state championship team during his senior season, interest in Horton was muted. A three-sport star who also excelled in basketball and baseball (his favorite sport as a kid), Horton got interest from FCS schools Montana, Montana State and Northern Colorado, but no FBS team was willing to take a chance on the young and raw receiver who showed a knack for explosive plays.
That was until then-Nevada receivers coach Eric Scott, who is now on San Jose State’s staff, reached out to Horton in November 2019 to see if he wanted to take an official visit to campus.
“It was very last minute,” Horton said. “And when he contacted me, I think signing day was probably a month after, and he said, ‘We want to get you on a visit. We want to get you here. We want you to see everything.’ And that really saved me. It put something in my heart that I really have somebody watching. It saved me a lot.”
Horton is far from the only Wolf Pack player to be under-recruited out of high school. Strong also had just one FBS scholarship offer, and he now appears on the brink of being one of the top quarterbacks selected in the 2022 NFL draft. Strong, and others at Nevada, can relate to Horton’s journey.
“It’s not like we're the first ones ever,” Strong said. “It happens all the time with guys who get better or their high school wasn't a football product that's putting guys out every year. Some coaches are looking for different things. Politics plays into it. It's all about who you know sometimes. Recruiting is a big circus. You never really know what's going to happen. All you need is one, though. All you need is one.”
Horton’s family is still disappointed the “one” didn’t come from Fresno State. Tory attended a couple of Bulldogs camps in high school but was not deemed good enough to play for the school, even if he wanted to leave the area for college anyway.
“It would have been nice to get an offer from them even though I probably wouldn't have went there just because I wanted to explore and get out of there,” Horton said. “My mom took it very hard, and she was kind of bummed out that I didn't get off Fresno State. My dad was, too, so it just feels great to see them happy to see me on the field playing against them and doing what I do.”
The Hortons are now season-ticket holders for Nevada games, making the 5-hour drive from Fresno to Mackay Stadium for the Wolf Pack’s home contests. But this week, they’ll get to stay in the Fresno area to watch their son play his first game at Bulldog Stadium.
“I think it's going to be great,” Horton said of playing at Fresno State. “I love the audience that’s talking mess. There are going to be a lot of people in a crowd that know me, and they're going to say some things, and that's just probably going to fire me up even more. I just love how the fans are going to be there, and just me being from Fresno, I know I get a lot of criticism because they don't know the backstory of the recruiting trail. But it's going to feel great playing there.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.