Two birth cycles separate Shane and Wes Horton. Their personalities are separate, too. But their opportunities, their experiences and their development have been eerily similar.
It’s not unusual for two siblings to share athletic talent. Nor is it unusual for them to be close in age (see Peyton and Eli Manning). But it’s not often two brothers are close enough in age that they play on the same team. Even rarer, the chance the two both start.
NFL veterans Ronde and Tiki Barber did it in college. But they are twins. And they played on opposite sides of the ball. They also went to the University of Virginia.
The Horton brothers both possess a scholarship at the University of Southern California. They both are on defense; Shane a linebacker, Wes a defensive end.
But they’ve been Trojans for some time. And while they’ve lived many games in Cardinal and Gold together, partnered moments on the field have been few.
This season is the culmination of the Hortons’ shared sweat and hours logged in the weight room. The days spent pouring over film almost complete. The time spent discussing reads and offenses coming to a close.
Walking into a room Wes looks the part of the older Horton. He stands four inches taller and forty pounds heavier.
Upon opening his mouth, its clear looks are deceiving. He lights up when mentioning big brother Shane.
“I’m more in the zone getting ready for the next snap but he’s always in my face like ‘let’s do it,’” Wes said, a smile audible in his speech. “In the back of my mind I know he’s behind me.”
“Wes has been my right hand man, since he came into this world,” Shane said.
Shane and Wes were So-Cal bred. Two UCLA fans growing up, these brothers had different paths to USC.
“We hated ‘SC growing up. My dad went to UCLA we grew up loving UCLA. He was like you guys are going to be Bruins,” Shane recalled, laughing.
Wes, a top prospect out of Notre Dame High (Sherman Oaks, Calif.), knew he was going to be a Trojan his junior year of high school. Shane, on the other hand, transferred from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. After just one football season at UNLV, he enrolled at USC the following spring.
“It’s special. A lot of brothers play football [but] there’s not too many that can say they play together at the level we do. So that in itself is special. It’s funny because that’s all me and Wes know,” Shane said.
The two started playing tackle football when Shane was nine, Wes eight. It wasn’t their first athletic foray, either. They spent many years with one another on T-ball and soccer teams.
Growing up, they jointly shut down any opposition.
“Wherever we were it was like you’re going to mess with one of us, you’re going to mess with both of us,” Shane said.
And in the 2006-2007 season, Shane- then a quarterback, wide receiver and safety- and Wes, who played on the line both-ways, helped the Knights amass an 11-1 record. Their efforts helped place Notre Dame High School among the state’s top-ten teams.
In 2008, because of Shane’s transfer, he had to redshirt the following football season. Ironically, so did Wes, as he wasn’t ready to start as a true freshman.
A year later Wes was ready, and started nine games for the Trojans. Shane, had converted to linebacker at USC, and was still learning his new position. But somewhere in the second quarter of the Washington State game he heard a familiar voice. He looked over his shoulder.
Despite the helmet obscuring his view, Wes knew it was the same guy he shared a bunk bed with for 18 years. The same guy who cooked him meal after meal (Shane was a culinary arts major at UNLV) and taught him invaluable lessons, about football and otherwise.
But the moment was all too brief. A lack of repetition and a strong showing from other linebackers prevented Shane from securing a more permanent role the past two seasons.
Then came the injuries. Watching another athlete get stronger, better and faster is often more painful than the injury itself. And the rehabilitation is no joke.
Luckily the Horton brothers did it, like so many other times, side-by-side. In December 2010 Wes had surgery on his foot. A week later, Shane went under the knife for a hip impingement.
It was a bitter experience. But one in which they grew, together.
“This hip surgery was like a blessing in disguise. Because one I feel awesome now and I learned ten times more football than I did before,” Shane said.
Both guys said they feel so much better now. In the six months since his injury, Shane has put on about 15 pounds. His excitement to get on the field is palpable.
“I really feel like I can do it. I had a few shots last year, I feel like I played good. I feel like I can play better,” the weakside linebacker said. “And now that I’m healthy, that’s what gets me excited. Now I just feel like I could fly.”
Wes is slated to start at the left end, or strong side depending on the system Kiffin settles on. While he’s started before, it seems like the elder Horton’s spot may be more of a sure thing heading into Fall.
“It’s not set in stone at all. I wasn’t 100 percent but I feel like I’ve trained hard this offseason [to] put myself in the best position to do well,” the younger Horton said.
Shane said he wants to bring back “LBU” to USC, like in the glory days when linebackers Rey Maualuga, Keith Rivers, Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiava were Trojans.
Perhaps USC’s core group of linebackers is too young for that title just yet. Age is not a problem for the defensive line, however. Wes said he thinks the current crop of linemen is good enough to be an immediate success.
“We’re ready to take off. We have the talent to be one of the best d-lines in the country so now we just have to do it,” he said.
It’s been a long road for these two brothers. They’ve dealt with the divorce of their parents, witnessed the transition of head coaches and overcame nagging physical ailments that would have set others back years, much less months.
Time has run out. Shane walked at graduation this past May, and has one final season of football eligibility. Wes has another year. But this is his last one where that voice will be whispering over his shoulder.
“We just have kind of been waiting for that year to come up where we can both be on the field consistently, like in high school,” Wes said.
For two members of a team whose defense was criticized and pulverized last season, Shane and Wes evoke the opposite reaction. From one another, they are motivated. From their experiences, they are energized.
“In general people are sleeping on us a little bit. But it’s cool. We don’t mind. Because we’re going to open a few eyes this year,” Shane said. “Everybody’s ready to play. It’s going to be fun.”
If the Horton brothers can take the field together, and conjure up wins together, the Trojans will definitely be having a good time this Fall.