There isn’t much doubt that Nashville native Maurice Horton will be the most content player on the field Saturday at the Down East Viking Football Classic.
Horton could be – and just about has been – anywhere else.
The 25-year-old has gone from jumping out of planes in airborne school to a pair of deployments with the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army in Afghanistan.
Horton is now an Elizabeth City State University student with a walk-on spot on the Vikings’ roster, and it’s safe to say he has more experience than the average defensive back/punter.
“At first, I said, ‘I’m not about to jump out of a plane,’” said Horton, a 2007 graduate of Nash Central High. “One day, I dropped everything and said, ‘Let’s go to Airborne school.’ It gets easier (jumping out of a plane) because you get adjusted to everything with falling on the ground and different altitudes. That first time I jumped I was pretty frightened.”
Horton, who previously had a fear of heights, has 27 jumps to his credit. It is something he could not have envisioned when he enrolled at N.C. A&T in the fall of 2007. He enjoyed being a student at the school, but the financial burden of attending was too heavy.
He dropped out after a year, and in 2009, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill, which would pay for his education after a stint with the Army.
In December of 2009, he began his first deployment to Afghanistan, where he stayed for six months fixing radios and giving out communication to the infantry.
His second deployment lasted from September 2011 to April 2012.
Like any mother whose son is deployed, Tonya Wright was anxious and worried. She often avoided news reports out of Afghanistan, instead waiting for her son to call infrequently or using their preferred mode of communication – Facebook.
“I was sad when he left, but he said, ‘Momma, the same God that is over here is over there,’” Wright said. “He always has a positive attitude. Instead of me comforting him, he was comforting me.”
Horton left the Army in good standing, rising to E-5 status as a sergeant. Most important to his mother, Horton returned to Nashville in a solid mental state.
Horton was the same person whose favorite dinner is tacos and burritos, and his affection for Jordan sneakers did not waver.
Instead of focusing on where he had been, Horton did not stay put for long. He enrolled at Elizabeth City State, a place that was recommended to him by some friends who attended the school.
Horton knew he wanted to study somewhere that he could put his business acumen to use and land an internship with Nike.
His hope is that one day he will work in Nike’s marketing department.
Horton said anyone that knows him realizes how much he loves sneakers. Wright said her son has been that way since he was in middle school, when he lined boxes upon boxes of Nike’s on shelves around his room.
He even created his own pair of shoes through Nike.
“His room was set up like a shoe store,” Wright said.
Football remained a desire, too. Horton said he remembers crying after playing his last game for Nash Central in the third round of the 2006 3-A state playoffs. He believed that would be his last football game until he introduced himself to Elizabeth City State football coach Waverly Tillar in the spring.
“He wanted to have an opportunity to see if he could still play,” Tillar said.
Horton was given a chance, and during the Vikings’ spring game, the former safety intercepted a pass and made a number of deflections, leaving Tillar to believe that Horton would have a spot at the position on the depth chart.
Horton returned after the summer, and since has shown an interest in punting, too. He has not seen any game action through the team’s first three games, but he continues to round himself into shape against mostly 18- to 22-year-olds who have not left the game for a number of years.
“I feel like each and every day I go to practice and attend meetings, I’m getting back to my routine,” Horton said. “Seven years away from the game ... It takes a while to get adjusted. I think I’m coming along just fine.”
Tillar said Horton is coachable and brings good character to the program.
The Vikings are not currently a top 25 program, but they certainly have someone who knows something about ranks and taking different routes to the football field.
Horton has earned the right to play back near his hometown.
“I can’t believe it,” Horton said.
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or email@example.com