One of the Boise State football team’s perpetual sources of positivity was put to his biggest test in one long day.
Junior cornerback Tyler Horton got a phone call from his dad, Tim, a few hours before the Nov. 11 game at Colorado State. Tony Perry, a family friend since before Horton was born and a coach during his senior year at Edison High in Fresno, had died that morning.
“My mom grew up with him, he helped some of my cousins get recruited,” Horton said. “He wasn’t so much of a coach as he was family.”
That night, Horton had to cover one of the best wide receivers in the country, the Rams’ Michael Gallup.
It did not start well — Gallup had 10 catches for 102 yards in the first half alone. Horton, who notes that short-term memory is important for a cornerback, held Gallup to one catch the rest of the game in the Broncos’ 59-52, come-from-behind win in overtime.
That catch went for zero yards on a third down in the final minutes. Horton sealed the victory with a fumble recovery on the game’s final play.
“We didn’t play extremely well in the first half, and in the second half, he competed,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said of Horton. “... You get challenged and you can either fold or you can go out and fight, and he fought back.
“He ended up with the ball: Game over.”
[Boise State at Fresno State, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS Sports Network]
Horton is among the Broncos most likely to handle adversity. He returns to his hometown Saturday against Fresno State as an example of the tenacity that can come from a tough situation.
Horton said he’s “lost a lot of friends” to gang violence, and recalls when his mom, Zezette, would come into his room to tell him that close friends and teammates had been shot.
“It goes back to where I come from, you realize life is short,” Horton said. “My mom always told me, ‘You have a good smile, and that can change people’s days sometimes.’ I try to live my life like that. Tomorrow’s never promised, so no need to walk around with a sad face.”
During fall camp, cornerbacks coach Ashley Ambrose said he told Horton that “people gravitate toward you because of your personality and who you are as a person.” Horton’s 26 career starts are the most among any defensive Bronco.
“He’s a guy that is always positive, always prepared, always a guy that brings it every single day,” Harsin said. “There’s no (extra) motivation needed for him. That’s something we’ve always been excited about. ... This (game) is big for him.”
Horton has 30 tackles (three for loss) to go with two interceptions and 10 pass breakups, which is tied for third in the Mountain West. He followed the fumble recovery at Colorado State with one last Saturday against Air Force, and he ran that one back 21 yards for a touchdown.
“He did a great job in coverage, he had a coverage sack,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “Essentially he held off the throw the quarterback wanted, and so he got paid the dividends on the scoop and score. To see him bounce back and have the game he did was awesome.”
In the spirit of the season, this homecoming gives Horton an opportunity to reflect on his Boise State career and how far he has come. He said he wasn’t recruited much by Fresno State, giving him the chance to get out of his comfort zone.
With that BSU scholarship, he has thrived, becoming a key part of a defense that needed leaders to rise. He is a big reason why the Broncos could clinch a 15th season with double-digit wins in the past 19 years.
“Every day I wake up, I’m thankful for being here, because Lord knows where I would be at,” Horton said.
Five questions with Tyler Horton
Your mom has a great name (Zezette). Tell us about your family.
“It’s funny, she has a twin sister, and her name is Lizette. We all have the same birthday, Jan. 17. I like to tell them I’m the chosen one. My dad and my older brother are named Tim. I have an older sister (Jeane) who has played pro volleyball in Peru, Italy and Germany. My oldest sister (Danita) lives in L.A. and has two kids, and my younger brother Tory just got moved up to varsity in football.”
So, your dad’s name is Tim Horton. Ever been to the Canadian coffee shops?
“I have to get out there. But the funny thing about it is that I’d never heard about them until I met (quarterback Brett) Rypien. He likes them, so he was quick to have some jokes.”
When you go to Fresno, what’s a must-visit place?
“There’s a group of like five or six of us that played in high school that are playing college ball, and when we are home together, we always go to Doghouse Grill. Gotta have the tri-tip sandwiches.”
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving food?
“I’m a ham type of guy. I don’t really eat the turkey. I’ll eat the skin, that’s where the flavor’s at.”
As a guy known for making people smile, what makes you laugh?
“There’s a movie (from 2000) called ‘3 Strikes’ that’s a really funny movie you have to check out. And my favorite comedian is Eddie Griffin, he’s a hilarious guy.”
Boise State at Fresno State
When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bulldog Stadium (41,031, FieldTurf)
TV: CBS Sports Network (Rich Waltz, Jay Feely, Jenny Dell)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 9-2, 7-0 (beat Air Force 44-19 last week); Fresno State 8-3, 6-1 (beat Wyoming 13-7 last week)
Series: Boise State leads 13-5 (Broncos won 28-14 in Boise on Dec. 6, 2014, in last meeting)
Vegas line: Boise State by 7
Kickoff weather: Low 70s, sunny
Las Vegas (Dec. 16): Boise State vs. Arizona State
The Pac-12 has provided no shortage of possibilities for the game, as Oregon and Arizona State became bowl-eligible last week. Two games this weekend will be winner-in, loser-out in terms of getting to six wins: Cal-UCLA and Colorado-Utah. The conference already has seven bowl-eligible teams, so it will have nine when all is said and done. Las Vegas is the sixth slot. Right now, that’s the Sun Devils, 6-5 overall and 5-3 in conference. The Broncos played Arizona State in the 2011 Las Vegas Bowl, which was Kellen Moore’s last collegiate game. Whoever loses the game between Arizona State and Arizona (7-4, 5-3) could be Vegas-bound, though the Cal-UCLA winner or Oregon could be on the radar.
New Mexico (Dec. 16): Utah State vs. Southern Miss
Frisco (Dec. 20): San Diego State vs. Memphis
Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 22): Toledo vs. Fresno State
Hawaii (Dec. 24): Colorado State vs. North Texas
Arizona (Dec. 29): Wyoming vs. New Mexico State
NEW YEAR’S SIX
Rose (Jan. 1, CFP semi): Oklahoma vs. Clemson
Sugar (Jan. 1, CFP semi): Alabama vs. Wisconsin
Peach (Jan. 1): Georgia vs. Central Florida
Orange (Dec. 30): Miami (Fla.) vs. TCU
Fiesta (Dec. 30): USC vs. Ohio State
Cotton (Dec. 29): Notre Dame vs. Auburn