Sports Person of the Week
Horton Carves Out Nice Career as a Lineman
Two-way lineman Gunner Horton was named one of the captains for the East Haven football team in his senior year. Gunner also competes for the Yellowjackets’ wrestling squad. (Photo courtesy of Gunner Horton )
Gunner Horton has spent most of his football career in East Haven as an offensive lineman. While offensive linemen may not always get the same amount of recognition as quarterbacks or running backs, Gunner takes great pride in protecting his teammates as he holds things down up front.
“As an offensive lineman, the pressure is on you. If you aren’t doing your job, no one else is going to succeed,” says Gunner. “It’s the last to fame, first to blame—that’s always the motto. If you’re not doing your job everyone is going to blame you, but if you’re doing your job, no one really gives you the credit. It’s fun, though. Even the running backs count on you.”
Gunner, a senior at East Haven High School, started playing football in the town’s rec league when he was four after being encouraged by his father Lance, who was also an offensive lineman. Gunner played his way up through the middle school and travel ranks before joining the Easties during his freshman year.
Gunner played in a few varsity games for East Haven as a freshman, but felt that he needed to get bigger and stronger in order to make his mark at the high school level. Gunner went to work during the offseason and, by his sophomore year, he had become the Yellowjackets’ starting left tackle.
“I improved a lot. I went from barely even pushing kids to me being the first lineman to push everybody,” Gunner says. “The running back usually runs behind me every time. I went from the chump to the champ.”
As he continued starting at left tackle as a junior, Gunner also earned a starting spot as one of East Haven’s defensive linemen, meaning that he hardly ever left the field during a game. While it was sometimes overwhelming to play two positions, Gunner felt that his experience in wrestling helped improve his abilities on the lines.
Gunner has been wrestling since the 6th grade, when he was introduced to the sport by Nick Gargano, the head coach at Joseph Melillo Middle School. Gunner continued grappling on the mat when he got to high school, posting a record of 15-15 in the 195-pound weight class in his freshman year. Gunner went 23-13 in that same division as a sophomore and then notched mark of 26-12 in the 220-pound weight class during his junior campaign.
“If you’re a football player, definitely get into wrestling. It helps you with your mobility and everything,” says Gunner. “As a lineman, you want to be mobile and strong. The tackle for wrestling is pretty much the same as football. Wrestling and football are not that different. It goes hand and hand.”
Even though the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the fall football season, East Haven Head Coach Scott Benoit named Gunner as one of the team’s senior captains for 2020. Gunner is one of five captains on the squad, joining fellow seniors Eric Araujo, Dave Amatruda, Trey Garea, and Alex Duarte in that role.
Coach Benoit has seen Gunner make huge improvements as a lineman through the past few years and felt that it was an easy call to select him as a captain.
“Gunner is a great kid, very active in the East Haven community. He does a great job. He’s a hard-working kid in practice. He is a pleasure to coach,” Benoit says. “The first thing Gunner brings is experience. He has played in a lot of games. He is very knowledgeable about what we do. He is quick to ask questions. He knows his assignments. He brings a lot of leadership to that offensive line.”
While he doesn’t have a college picked out, Gunner is hoping to pursue a career as an FBI agent after he graduates from East Haven. Gunner adds that he would continue with either of his sports at the collegiate level if he were offered a scholarship.
Gunner has become a stalwart on the line and a leader on the field throughout his career as an East Haven football player. However, even more than recording sacks and pancake blocks, Gunner’s favorite aspect of football is simply enjoying the time that he gets to spend on the gridiron.
“I just play football and live it. For me, being a football player is just playing football and loving it,” says Gunner. “There’s really nothing else. You don’t have to be good or bad to be a football player. Just have fun doing it.”