Back at defensive end, Horton’s been one of the most disruptive defensive players throughout spring.
“It’s my last year so I feel like it’s go hard or go home,” Horton said. “I feel like I just have to get my mind right and get my standards right.”
Partridge envisioned Horton as a pass rushing specialist when Horton signed late out of West Hills Community College in 2016.
Gone after the season that followed the signing, Partridge never saw that vision fulfilled. It looked like Lane Kiffin wouldn’t see it either.
Buried on the depth chart, slowed by a meniscus tear in his left knee and also moving to defensive tackle, Horton didn’t see the field in 2016 or 2017. During the second half of last season, however, Horton began to climb the depth chart.
“I felt like I should be a one, I should be a two,” said Horton, referring to spots on the depth chart. “I put my mind together. I thought of things that I could improve on.”
He also began to trust his surgically-repaired knee.
“Just getting back on the field was kind of scary because I was putting all these thoughts into my head about re-injuring myself and stuff like that,” Horton said. “I had to come out of my shell to really be like, OK, it’s over. I’ve got to be successful. I’ve got to make these plays – do it for my team and just be a factor.”
Playing with improved quickness at the snap and taking more efficient routes to ball carriers, Horton played in nine games last season, registering five tackles.
When Kiffin replaced Tony Pecoraro, last season’s defensive coordinator, and defensive line coach Terrance Mathies with Glenn Spencer and Lance Thompson, respectively, Horton received a fresh opportunity to impress.
“These changes with coaches, there’s bad and good. The bad is obviously an adjustment to new coaches and people,” Kiffin said. “The good part is kids, they get new starts. Damian is doing well.”
Assessing Horton, a redshirt senior, with fresh eyes, FAU’s new defensive coaches had a vision similar to Partridge’s.
Unlike fellow line mate Marcel Southall, who successfully lobbied coaches to move him from defensive tackle to defensive end, the 6-foot-3 Horton says he never asked to move. Coaches simply informed him of the change – news Horton eagerly accepted.
He then shed 15 pounds to his current 250.
“I feel like on the edge I feel like I can get a better pass rush,” Horton said. “I feel like on the edge, just run wise and not being double teamed, I just feel very, very at home on the outside as opposed to playing inside.”