Local pair earn NFL roster spots

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 9, 2004

AHOSKIE – Okay, folks, ditch the Washington Redskins.

Forget about the Carolina Panthers.

Fans of the National Football League in the Roanoke-Chowan area have a pair of new favorite teams – the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers.

Sunday afternoon found a pair of local prep football players make the active rosters of those two clubs and secure their first season in the NFL.

Jason Horton, a 1998 graduate of Hertford County High School, made the final cut to secure a spot on the Packers’ roster while fellow HCHS grad Curtis Deloatch made the New York Giants.

&uot;I was a nervous wreck Sunday afternoon,&uot; Horton admitted. &uot;I cleaned my room, washed clothes, paced the floor, whatever I could to stay busy.&uot;

The Ahoskie native said he finally called his father, John D. Horton, after the 3 p.m. roster deadline.

&uot;I told him I was still afraid to celebrate and while we were talking a Green Bay number beeped in,&uot; Horton said.

The voice on the other end of the telephone belonged to Packers’ scout Mark Lillibridge who signed Horton originally.

&uot;He told me he wasn’t going to make me sweat and welcomed me to the Green Bay Packers,&uot; Horton said.

Clara Horton, Jason’s mother, was in the house when she said she heard her husband shouting.

&uot;I came in and asked what was going on and he told me Jason made it,&uot; Clara Horton said.

Horton said she was very happy for her son.

&uot;We’re very proud,&uot; she said. &uot;We’re excited for him. We’ve been praying for him every day.&uot;

While Horton and his family celebrated Sunday afternoon, by Tuesday’s day off from workouts, he admitted he was still having a hard time letting it sink in.

&uot;It sank in when it first happened, but now I think I’m having trouble with it sinking in,&uot; he said. &uot;My main concern right now is getting healthy and being ready for the trip to Charlotte.&uot;

Horton is suffering from a hip pointer, one that occurred in his last pre-season game and is hoping to be well enough to play Monday night when the Packers visit the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.

Jason Horton spent last season with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League and said he fully expected to spend another season in the CFL before getting his shot in the NFL.

Horton played all four years on the gridiron at Hertford County High School, including an All-State campaign during his senior season.

As a senior at HCHS, Horton led the state with 13 interceptions, setting a state record. He was tabbed All-Big Eight Conference, Roanoke-Chowan Area Defensive Player of the Year and was named Player of the Year at the school.

He left HCHS for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but departed after one season. He transferred to North Carolina A&T University where he spent two seasons.

In 2002, while playing for A&T, Horton collected 58 tackles, six interceptions and defended 13 passes. He also had two fumble recoveries.

Deloatch was busy working with the Giants and could not be reached for comment about making the team.

The brand new NY Giant was signed by the team as a free agent in May and made the final cut Sunday afternoon.

Deloatch played his college football at North Carolina A&T University where, as a senior, he was chosen All-Mid Eastern Athletic Conference second team as a defensive back.

He played in every game that season and had 21 tackles with four interceptions, which he returned, for a total off 44 yards, including one touchdown. Deloatch also blocked a kick and deflected eight passes.

During that senior campaign, Deloatch also returned 28 punts for 269 yards and three kickoffs for 38 yards.

Deloatch’s college campaign included a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II record five touchdowns on 20 punts.

The district administrators in Hertford County are beaming about the dual success of their graduates.

&uot;I’m very excited for both of those guys,&uot; Superintendent of Schools Dennis M. Deloatch said. &uot;Their hard work and dedication have paid off and I wish them both the very best of health and success.

&uot;Those of us in the district are pleased to have both of these two work hard and make it into the professional ranks at the same time,&uot; he continued. &uot;It speaks highly of our athletic program, the coaches, the teams and those who support us.&uot;

The superintendent said he wanted the two to have long and successful careers.

HCHS Athletic Director Charles Simmons was equally pleased with the news.

&uot;It speaks well for the program, the school and the community to have kids that are able to get that far and then take advantage of it through their hard work,&uot; Simmons said. &uot;I’m especially happy because I know the kids.

&uot;They both played basketball for me and I knew they had the talent if they got the opportunity,&uot; he continued. &uot;To see them succeed is a good feeling for me and the entire coaching staff at Hertford County High School.&uot;

Legendary HCHS football coach Daryl Allen was on the sidelines to coach both Horton and Deloatch and he said, while you never know what will happen, both had talent.

&uot;You can’t project in high school if they’ll be a pro, but I knew they had the athletic ability,&uot; Allen said. &uot;It’s a good feeling to see those two go on and succeed in sports. I’m proud of all those who played for me that succeed, whether its in sports or in the business world. It’s always nice when they go on and make something of themselves.&uot;

Allen said both Horton and Deloatch were solid cornerbacks during their time at the Ahoskie-based school.

&uot;When I came back, Jason was a senior and we played man-to-man defense,&uot; Allen said. &uot;Jason had 13 interceptions that year and had his hands on a few more. He was a natural for man-to-man defense.

&uot;When Curtis was a senior, we put him on the best receiver for the other team, just like we did Jason the year before,&uot; Allen continued. &uot;They both were very good in a man-to-man defense.&uot;

The coach said in his years of coaching, he had seen a few of his players make in to the NFL, but it was the first time two made it in the same year.

During their playing days, both were recognized by then Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Sports Editor Cal Bryant. Now the News Editor of the same publication, Bryant said he was extremely pleased to see the two live up to the potential they displayed at HCHS.

&uot;I agree with coach Allen – it’s hard to judge if a high school player will make it to the professional level because we must remember that what we’re seeing at this very early stage of their athletic careers are diamonds in the rough,&uot; noted Bryant. &uot;There’s no doubt that Jason and Curtis possessed that raw talent, but it takes much more than that to succeed at the highest level of athletics.&uot;

Bryant continued, &uot;With their names now etched on an NFL roster, it’s evident that these two young men were able to expand upon what they learned athletically in high school and college. But it’s also a tribute to what’s inside their hearts. It’s there that you find what drives an athlete to success or failure. In the case of Jason and Curtis, their respective heartbeats turned into a success story and I congratulate both.&uot;

The Giants open the season this Sunday at Philadelphia while Green Bay opens Monday night at the Carolina Panthers.