In his two seasons at Auburn he has coached the SEC’s leading rushers in Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne. Horton is quick to deflect praise away from himself, however. He attributes his coaching success to the talented players he has mentored and the places he has coached.
“Number one, you’ve got to be in a system that enables you to do that,” said Horton. “Obviously, at Auburn we’ve got that, and where I was before (Arkansas) we had that. So that’s probably as big a factor as any.
“Let’s not kid yourself and think you’re some guru coach,” Horton said. “We’ve had talent. I mean, you can’t win the Kentucky Derby on a donkey. You’ve got to have a good player, but the quality that I put a whole lot of stock in is I want a good kid that understands work ethic. If they do that, I think you can get better in seeing them mature, seeing them improve. I think that’s been the case with most of the kids I’ve coached that have gone on and done real well.”
Looking at the upcoming season, Horton said he is excited about the potential of Auburn’s running game. The two players he said he expects to provide the most impact early are sophomores Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber.
“Right now I would say that Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber have earned the right to play, and so they’re both going to play,” confirmed Horton.
Tim Horton is heading into his third season as an Auburn coach.
Horton expressed that Thomas has some areas of his game that need work, but he is coming along quickly.
“He’s a little bigger,” Horton said of Thomas. “I think right now he’s at 205 pounds so that’s one thing. I think the biggest thing when you go from being a true freshman to now into your second year is just offense familiarity. He’s much more familiar with the offense.
Horton explained that Roc Thomas has qualities that the last feature running back at Auburn did not really display.
“Roc Thomas is an explosive player,” the coach said. “He’s got some speed and quickness that, to be honest, was more than we had with CAP. He’s a guy that can be a home run hitter for us.”
However, Artis-Payne’s durability was an excellent quality, and Horton pointed out that Thomas may not have that. “Now, CAP took 350 touches last year. Can Roc take 350 touches this year? Probably not.”
The other running back who has stood out in practice is Peyton Barber. The sophomore has struggled with a couple of injuries in his time at Auburn, but Coach Horton believes that Barber’s time to step up is now.
Speaking about Barber, Horton said, “The most important ability is reliability. As a coach you’ve got to be able to trust them and trust that they’ll know what to do, trust that they’re going to take care of the ball, trust that they’re going to know their assignments. That’s what Peyton Barber is. He’s someone that I have a great deal of trust in.
Peyton Barber runs a drill in a preseason practice.
“Putting him in the game, he’s going to do great. He just needs the opportunity, and he’s going to get the opportunity. He’s earned the opportunity.”
Another player in the fold at running back is highly-touted prospect, both out of high school and junior college, Jovon Robinson. Twice the Memphis, Tenn., native has chosen to play for Auburn in the recruiting process so it is safe to believe that the junior wants to play on the Plains. However, Horton was firm that Robinson had work to do in order to receive playing time, although he in now on the right path.
Jovon Robinson is shown at Fan Day.
“There’s just a certain standard and a professionalism that we want our groups to perform at whether that’s being on time for a meeting or paying attention when you’re not playing or whatever it might be,” Horton noted. “For some kids that’s easy for them, and then some it probably hasn’t been demanded of them in the past but it is now. Jovon didn’t play or wasn’t performing at the standard that we look for on and off the field early, but real pleased with how he’s done the last three or four days.”
The fourth player in the group expected to contribute is true freshman Kerryon Johnson from Madison Academy. According to Horton you would not know that Johnson is a true freshman due to his attitude and demeanor.
Kerryon Johnson led Madison Academy to the state championship last season.
“Kerryon Johnson is very mature for someone that’s a true freshman,” Horton said. “We talk to him a lot in our room about ‘be a pro before you’re a pro’ and ‘(be) someone like Cameron Artis-Payne.’ He was a pro before he’s playing for the Carolina Panthers. Corey Grant was a pro before he plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Just in their approach and how mature they were, and K.J.’s the same way. He’s very, very, very conscientious which is a great quality, and he’s a very, very good athlete. Really impressed with his maturity level.”
In regards to Artis-Payne, the NFL rookie keeps in contact with Coach Horton, and he is quite proud of the acclaim Artis-Payne has won in preseason with the Panthers.
“He sent me a text yesterday that said, ‘Coach, I just landed in Buffalo.’ They play there tonight,” Horton explained. “It does not surprise me at all how well he’s doing because again, he’s a detail guy. He’s very conscientious. He’s not one of those flamboyant guys. He just wants to go get his job done and keep moving ahead. I’m really proud of how he’s doing. I’m not surprised. It doesn’t surprise me a bit. I think he’ll have a good NFL career and hopefully it can be long. Hopefully he can stay healthy. He’s a neat young man, and I’m just honored that I got a chance to coach him.”
The Tigers will look to start off the season strong against Louisville and Head Coach Bobby Petrino, who Horton expressed a lot of coaching respect for as he worked with Petrino at Arkansas. Horton thinks that game is important to the team’s success, and he also believes the running back group will announce themselves in the opener.
“(I’m) real pleased with the group, and I think ultimately it will be one of the strengths of our team,” he said.
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