Even from a hundred yards out, nobody could mistake Wes and Shane Horton for anything except brothers.
Wes, the younger defensive end, might stand four inches taller than his slightly more human-sized linebacker older sibling, but both brothers wear the same curly hair and bright smile.
Looking beyond their physical similarities — and differences — Shane and Wes Horton act just like brothers. Separated by a mere 18 months, the siblings even sound similar. Both pepper their speech with “you know,” and, more tellingly, repeatedly refer to their time together as Trojans as a blessing.
“It’s stuff you dream about,” Shane, a redshirt sophomore, said. “Being able to play under Coach Carroll, being able to play at home and also being able to play with my brother. I’m living the dream. And I cherish every moment.”
While redshirt freshman Wes has been a regular starter this season, USC’s game against California two weekends ago marked Shane’s opportunity to join his brother in the starting lineup, a chance that arose out of the injury to linebacker Malcolm Smith.
For the two siblings out of Chatsworth, Calif., it was their first chance to start together since their playing days at Notre Dame High School.
“Back in high school, we started together basically every game,” Wes said. “It was very exciting and not everyone gets that opportunity.”
However, the start in Memorial Stadium was actually not their first time on the field together as Trojans. Shane fondly recalled the Washington State game, their first time playing together since 2007. Shane smiled as he remembered that both brothers were so lost in the game that finding each other in the huddle came as a mild shock.
“I remember we were huddled up in a TV timeout and Coach was talking to us and I was tapping Wes, saying, ‘Wes! Wes!’ and he had barely even noticed I was out there and he looked back and said, ‘This is it!’” Shane said.
Except for some hard work and a fortunate transfer, such a wonderful moment might never have come to pass. Shane, who graduated high school in 2006, chose to attend the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he had a stellar freshman season at starting linebacker.
Separated on and off the football field for the first time since birth, Shane and Wes faced some difficult choices as the younger brother approached his own high school graduation.
“It definitely sucked,” Wes said, bluntly. “I was leaning towards UNLV in the beginning, but things didn’t really work out. Obviously, when he came to USC, it was just a blessing to have him here.”
Fortunately, Shane transferred from UNLV, and after an NCAA-mandated year off, the siblings were finally able to play together again.
Though they play different positions on defense, Shane and Wes found important little moments of symmetry and teamwork between them during the Cal game.
“We go to the same side every time just based on our positions, so there’s a few plays where I got to tap him on the butt and tell him to go left, tell him to go right,” Shane explained. “So it’s cool, I give him a little tap, and he knows it’s me every time.”
Although senior defensive captain Taylor Mays said he didn’t necessarily see any signs of “brotherly love” on the field, he praised the way both brothers have prepared individually and together.
“Both of them are stepping up, stepping in,” Mays said. “They’re mature and they’re dedicated, and it is important to them to play well. It’s important to them to do well for the guys around them.”
Defensive coordinator Rocky Seto praised Shane’s performance in his first start against Cal, also remarking that the brothers’ start together might have been the first of its kind at USC since Mike and Marlin McKeever played together in the early ’60s.
“We felt really pleased the way he performed and executed. He had a big hit, and I thought it was pretty neat that both were out there,” Seto said.
Coach Pete Carroll echoed Seto’s praise for the performances of Shane and Wes against the Golden Bears, and also commented on the rarity of their opportunity.
“That was really cool. We were supposed to take a picture of the three of us but never got that done — blew it off at the end,” Carroll joked. “Those guys are really well-liked around here because of their work ethic and the way they handle themselves, and the guys were rooting for them.”
Despite his strong performance against Cal, Shane was unable to win the starting spot from a healthy Smith against Notre Dame last weekend. True to Mays’ assessment of his selflessness, the older Horton showed little concern for the decision.
“The only thing I can do is come out here and bust my tail every play,” Shane said. “We’ve got two other guys who are really good and can fill in that spot. So it’s also good — it’s going to make us better — that we’re all competing against each other.”
Rather than gripe about the starting lineup, both Shane and Wes, who remains a starting defensive end, seem content to play their positions and improve to the best of their abilities. And, after that long separation, the brothers mostly just seem happy to be together again as Trojans.
“That’s why I came back over here, just to be with him,” Shane said. “It felt like something was missing, you know, we’re attached at the hip. That’s my best friend. I love that guy and it’s going to be hard being away from him. So we’re going to stay together as long as we can.”
And even though the brothers said they rarely argue over their performances on the field, sometimes a little competition off the field is inevitable.
“I would say the only time we do argue and bicker is in video games,” Shane said, laughing. “We won’t fight over food, we won’t fight over anything else — but video games, I guess it just comes down to competition.”