FAYETTEVILLE — Bobby Petrino OK’s every football prospect Arkansas pursues, but one in this year’s incoming class came with Petrino’s thumbs-up following a personal eye test.
Freshman Julian Horton played receiver at Greater Atlanta Christian with Petrino’s son, Bobby, and the coach watched almost all of the Spartans’ games that season when he was coaching the Atlanta Falcons.
“I got to see Julian when he was a sophomore, and I got to see him just about every game,” Petrino said. “His ability to elevate in the air, catch the ball in his hands, I really liked. He also jumped over guys and played corner, returned punts and was one of the most mature guys on the field.”
Horton said it was “great” having Petrino watch him.
“I’ve been talking to him about three years now, and I’m grateful he gave me an opportunity to play at the University of Arkansas,” Horton said.
The Razorbacks chased Horton with Petrino’s blessing and landed the 6-foot-1, 182-pounder, who is part of a strong crop of wideouts considered the Hogs’ next big wave of receiving talent.
Horton had a massive game in the Class AA playoffs that 2007 season, with a school-record 244 receiving yards on 10 catches in GAC’s 26-7 upset of No. 1-seeded Calhoun.
“We went up there and Julian just had a huge game,” said Ken Robinson, then the GAC coach. “He caught a lot of go routes.
“I remember that’s the only time (Petrino) came up and said much to me after a game. He said, ‘Great game. Way to throw the football down the field.’ I think he was excited about the way we threw the ball down the field that night.”
Horton recalled that a scouting service was in Calhoun that night to check out GAC linebacker Christian Robinson, now a sophomore at Georgia.
“They came to watch Christian Robinson and I ended up showing out,” Horton said. “That was probably the best game of my life. I was real young, too.”
Horton’s physical progress has been encouraging for the Razorbacks.
“He’s a big, physical, good-looking kid,” Arkansas receivers coach Kris Cinkovich said. “He’s grown even more since we signed him. He’s very strong. We’ve also found out he has very good hands.”
Cinkovich, who was hired in the winter, got in on the tail end of recruiting Horton.
“He made a lot of plays on both sides of the ball,” Cinkovich said. “You love to see a guy jump off the film that way.
“In Julian’s case, he came to us because Coach Petrino saw him play as a sophomore every week. One thing I’ve learned, when a coach at our level is seeing a guy play every week and the coach gets a strong feeling about that kid, he usually ends up as a strong player.”
Cinkovich recalled a similar situation in his previous job at UNLV, when assistant coach Gary Bernardi’s firsthand reviews pressed the Rebels into taking receiver Ryan Wolfe, who finished his career with school records of 283 receptions and 3,495 receiving yards.
Of course, Horton, who was also a guard on the GAC basketball team that went 36-1 and won the state championship, will be joining a loaded Arkansas receiving corps — judged as the best in the nation by Athlon — and he’ll be one of four touted wideouts in this class.
“I’m just looking at whatever happens, happens,” Horton said. “I want to go to camp, do my best to move up the depth chart.
“I want to try my best and get on the field as early as possible, and if I redshirt, I’ll just take that and do my best to improve.”
Robinson said Horton will have to deal with more than just the athletic part of football.
“What separates great players as they go up the chain is the mental part of the game,” Robinson said. “For the most part, being an SEC receiver or player, you have the physical tools. With Julian, the physical tools are there. He can run and jump and catch.
“Sometimes when you have a lot of success when you’re young, there comes unrealistic expectations and pressure, and I thought Julian handled that well.”