By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
A second-team All-Pioneer Football League defensive end as a senior at Jacksonville University, Justin Horton’s trek to the NFL will, of course, be more complicated than just crossing the Mathews Bridge from the school’s campus to the Jaguars facility at Everbank Field.
But he’s on his way.
Although Horton wasn’t chosen during the NFL Draft in April, he was contacted by seven teams during the final two rounds about the possibility of signing as a free agent. The next-door neighbor Jacksonville Jaguars were one of them.
“I was excited. They’re a team I obviously have seen a lot of being pretty much right across the bridge from their facilities,” Horton said. “I know Jacksonville pretty well. I love the city. I love the people. I love everything about it. I have a lot of connections through school. And off campus, I know a lot of people, especially in the Arlington area.
“That’s the area that (the university) is in. We do a lot in that community. My internship was actually with a school through Community In Schools, a program in Jacksonville that does a lot of mentoring and helping kids after school. I was at Fort Caroline Middle School as well as a few other elementary schools. So, I was lucky and blessed enough to be involved in a lot of stuff outside of football.”
Inside of football, Horton is involved in the task of moving from defensive end to outside linebacker. It’s a challenge he’s taking on with no hesitancy.
“I’ve always prided myself on my athleticism, so it’s not really a big deal,” Horton said. “I’m actually very excited to learn more about football, especially from the outside linebacker position. There are a lot of things that are similar between defensive end and outside linebacker, but there are a lot of things that linebackers need to do and need to see. And the way they react is very intriguing as far as being a difference in what I was used to seeing.
“It puts me in a position where I’m able to use a lot more of the tools that I have. It’s challenging at times because people want you to do something a certain way, but I’ve embraced it and I’m loving it so far and I can’t wait to dive into it even more into detail with the Jaguars.”
Horton has taken the advice of two men to heart as he takes the next step: his position coach at JU, former Jaguar Ernie Logan, and his buddy since childhood, Dallas Cowboys second-year wide receiver Andy Jones.
“I kind of got a firsthand look at what Andy was doing, his process during this time last year and what he was going through,” Horton said. “He was the first person I called when the season ended to get a heads-up of what was going on. He told me step by step things that he thought I should focus on, things that were ahead. He really just tried to keep me in a good place as far as my mentality.
“A lot of guys will get ahead of themselves. A lot of guys will freak themselves out. But Andy did a good job letting me know that you stay calm, you do you, be confident with what you’re doing. Continue to keep working and when you get your chance, fire out like a bullet. He’s been a very important part of my process.
“I’ve spent 19 years thinking about, dreaming about being in the position that I am now. Having my degree (in sociology). Having a chance to stick and make a 53-man roster. This is the position that I’ve been dreaming about and working towards. And while it’s far from being over, I’m blessed that God’s put me in the position exactly where I wanted to be.
“I’m happy to be here and make (my Florida hometown of) Clermont proud, Jacksonville proud, my family proud and above all, my Lord and Savior proud. I’m just happy to be where I’m at and I’m ready to get to work.”