Could Colorado State WR Tory Horton Be The Best Group Of Five Receiver In 2023?

Tory Horton stands alone as the Mountain West's best WR. But opposite Malachi Corley, could he be the Group of Five's best chance of earning All-American Honors?

Fresno, California native Tory Horton has brought his version of Central Valley heat to two places more known for cold elements: Reno and Fort Collins.

He’s scorched cornerbacks and safeties since his arrival in the Mountain West Conference in 2020. If there’s anything “cold” about him in a freezing atmosphere, it’s his cold-blooded nature in melting coverages. He already holds the title of best Mountain West Conference wide receiver by CFN ahead of the 2023 season. But are we looking at the best Group of Five wideout, period?

Tory Horton Owns A Power Five Skill Set

All signs out of Fort Collins point to the Colorado State Rams’ star becoming one of the most dominating non-Power Five WR this upcoming season and, in the process, becoming the fourth Rams wideout since 2016 to hear his name called in the NFL Draft.

And with the dynamic plays Horton has made in the Rockies, you’d forget he’s under 190 pounds – as he stands at a rather thin 6’2″, 180-pound frame. That frame and his game at WR, though, again brings an avalanche to defensive backs in a state where that “A” word is only seen on hockey jerseys and hats.

Horton starts burying those trying to single cover him first by attacking leverages. He shows an advanced understanding of how to sell where a corner thinks he’s going, only to violently plant and attack the biggest grass area exposed by a CB’s angle. From there, Horton breezes past and makes reservations for six in the end zone – as seen here against P5 foe Michigan. Another example is against Wyoming with Horton working against the inside leverage from a CB.

But it’s not just the setup stack against a CB that gives Horton the upper hand. He literally looks like he’s gliding on air the moment he surpasses his coverage and waltzes into the end zone. And his traits weren’t developed first collegiately at Fort Collins. Horton showed those skillsets right away while with the Wolfpack. He proved right away he can apply pressure to DBs in Jay Norvell’s Air Raid attack. And he’s continued that in Fort Collins.

Speaking of Norvell, he’s another reason why Horton has been positioned to be one of the most dominating Group of Five WRs this fall.

Horton Continues to Learn and Thrive Under Receiver Guru

While Norvell played linebacker at the University of Iowa and in the NFL, he has established himself as a WR guru in his coaching career.

With the exception of his stops with the Oakland Raiders (2002-03), Nebraska (2004-06), and UCLA (2007), every coaching stop since then has witnessed Norvell working with wide receivers and has produced the following WRs:

  • Juaquin Iglesias –74 catches, 1,150 yards and 10 touchdowns at Oklahoma in ’08 before being drafted in the third round of the ’09 draft.
  • Ryan Broyles – Shattered the NCAA mark for career receptions with 349 catches. His second season with Norvell witnessed 131 catches for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns.
  • Kenny Stills – The San Diego native Stills caught 204 career passes for 2,594 yards and scored 24 touchdowns in his three seasons with Norvell. And that includes his 11 TD season of 2012.
  • Wyatt Demps – In his final season at Nevada, Demps delivered his best season of 67 grabs, 908 yards and 11 touchdowns…all in Norvell’s first season as head coach.
  • Romeo Doubs – One of Norvell’s more recent pupils, Doubs became a back-to-back 1,000-yard WR in 2020 and ’21, before being drafted in the fourth round of the 2022 draft.

Each wideout was given a seat to their own trajectory once Norvell oversaw them. Horton has seen his own numbers spike in his three seasons with the head coach who recruited him in the 2020 UNR class. In season three, Horton shined the brightest with 71 grabs, his first career 1,000-yard season (1,131), and a personal best of eight touchdowns.

Now he’s in season four with Norvell, giving the early warning advisory to future defenses that his heat index toward DBs is scheduled to rise even higher.

Being Around Past Football Talent, Plus Horton’s Home City, Assists Him in WR Dominance

Horton didn’t develop his WR prowess overnight. In fact, it arrived before he trekked to CSU or even Nevada.

It came via Fresno’s westside; considered the more blue-collar, feisty side of Fresno and the place that sharpened Horton on the gridiron.

For starters, the Washington Union High grad grew up watching two older family members, Johnny Sears (Cincinnati Bengals, also played in the CFL for Toronto, Winnipeg, and Hamilton) and Marte Sears (Cleveland Browns, also played for Saskatchewan of the CFL), go from Fresno to pro ball. Then, he watched his older brother Tyler establish himself as a Power 5 recruit at Edison High before ultimately choosing Boise State, later witnessing the cornerback/return ace win the 2017 MWC title.

But there’s more. He’s from the part of Fresno that has produced recent notable names like Jeremiah Hunter (wide receiver, Cal, played for Central High), Xavier Worthy (WR, Texas, also a Central grad), and NFL cornerback for the Chicago Bears Jaylon Johnson, another Central grad from Fresno’s west side.

Horton would watch and compete with these talents during the offseason grind through the club football circuit and in private workout sessions.

The common saying “iron sharpens iron” also applied to Horton and West Fresno’s past stars. He got accustomed to watching and working with talent who went through the rigors of establishing themselves as national recruits, then All-Conference standouts. Again, with its blue-collar reputation, Horton clearly brings West Fresno over to CSU as one who scraps for everything and doesn’t back down from a challenge.

And now, Horton has elevated his chances of going after this prestigious honor.

Can Horton Become School’s Sixth All-American?

Of the five All-Americans produced in Colorado’s fourth-largest city, the most recent trio of Rashard Higgins (2014), Michael Gallup (2017), and Trey McBride (2021) all caught passes. Horton is fully capable of keeping that trend going.

Horton, though, will get tested early once the calendar flips to September.

Up first is Washington State, which surrendered the third-fewest points in the Pac-12 last season. However, the Cougars ranked 10th in the conference against the pass and lost top CB Derrick Langford to an undrafted free agent NFL deal with the New York Jets, boding well for Horton to dominate out of the gate.

Next up? Deion Sanders gets his crack at trying to get Colorado to lock up Horton in his first Rocky Mountain Showdown. Sanders is still aiming to figure out who will lead his CB unit and if it could be the past five-star CB Travis Hunter.

After the Pac-12 gauntlet, things have the potential to ease off for Horton with Middle Tennessee State (No. 78 in total defense last season) and FCS foe Utah Tech next up. After that, only Air Force and Boise State will be the lone top 15 national defenses of 2022 Horton and the Rams will face during MWC play. And Horton still averaged 10-11 yards per catch facing both.

The standout from the 559 shines bright as the conference’s best wideout and could end as the Group of 5’s best All-American chance and highest-rated NFL prospect by turning up his version of the Central Cali heat.

Tory Horton Profile

  • Height: 6’2″
  • Weight: 180
  • Number: 14
  • Hometown: Fresno, CA
  • High School: Washington Union (also attended Edison High)
  • Years Active: 2020-2023
  • Previous School(s): Nevada
  • Draft Eligibility: 2024

Tory Horton’s Career Receiving Stats

  • Career Receptions: 143
  • Career Receiving Yards: 2,126
  • Career Receiving Touchdowns: 18
  • Yards Per Catch: 14.9