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WSU sophomore cornerback Horton plays above size

PULLMAN – Watch Damante Horton jog onto Washington State’s football field and you realize how small 5-foot-10, 160 pounds looks.

Talk with Horton and you realize how quiet the sophomore cornerback is.

Observe Horton at work and you realize neither of those things matter.

Horton can play.

“There’s no question,” he’s going to be tough to dislodge from the right cornerback spot, WSU cornerbacks coach Jody Sears said following Thursday’s practice, the Cougars’ 11th of the spring, as the team eyes its second-to-last scrimmage at 10 a.m. Saturday.

But Sears already knew that.

He knew it last fall, when the unassuming freshman from Oakland, Calif., “separated himself extremely early, that’s for sure,” Sears said. “He was mature, (had) good savvy, he’s tough and he’s got good skill.”

Sears was sure of it when Horton, looking like a middle-schooler in a varsity game, was thrown on the field against UCLA and was given a chance to show what he could do.

“They went right after him,” Sears said. “They threw two fade balls on him and he played them perfectly.”

Horton didn’t start a game last season but played often until the Arizona game. Against the Wildcats, he went down with a medial collateral ligament tear and was lost for the final five games.

“It was my first major injury,” Horton said of the time away. “I’ve never been out that long.”

But the injury didn’t seem to slow Horton’s development.

“There doesn’t seem to be any type of drop-off, whatsoever,” Sears said.

If anything, Horton has shown this spring he’s taken steps forward.

But that wasn’t a surprise, Sears said, describing Horton as a student of the game.

“He’s extremely coachable,” Sears added, saying Horton is the rare athlete who can absorb concepts and put them into practice on the field after just one explanation.

With the cornerback spot culled by injuries – during Thursday’s non-tackling practice, four Cougars players listed as corners did not suit up – Horton rarely leaves the field.

That’s fine with him.

“Football is my passion,” he said of the sport he didn’t start playing until middle school. “I just like the contact.”

Growing up in Oakland, a city that has struggled with crime, Horton saw enough of the wrong type of contact to know to stay away from it.

“It’s tough, but as long as you stay out of the bad stuff, you should be good,” he said of his hometown. “I focused on football and school.”

Football led him to Pullman, a place he says is “very different, especially the weather,” from Oakland. “I’m getting used to it by now. Everybody’s happy and they like each other, like a family.”

Horton is different than your average 5-10, 160-pound player.

“You look at him and there’s not a lot to him, but there is,” Sears said, “He’s strong, a lot stronger than you think. He’s wound up pretty tight. That’s one thing that was pretty surprising, was how strong, how physical he was.”