By Angel Verdejo

Killeen Daily Herald

John Horton has wanted to attend the University of Arkansas since the eighth grade.

"I just like their team," Horton said of the Razorbacks. "They just always seemed to be really big in sports."

Back then, however, Horton's dream was to play football at Arkansas. Now, it's track and field where the Copperas Cove senior will continue his athletic career, as the state-qualifying triple jumper gave his verbal commitment to Arkansas last month.

Arkansas' mens track team spent most of the 2010 outdoor season in the national rankings, doing the same during the indoor season in the regional rankings.

"The school is real good and their tradition was real strong," Horton said. "And with their track program, I like it a whole bunch."

Horton is coming off a 2010 season in which he won the triple jump in eight meets and finished second twice. He started the season winning at five straight meets.

He claimed the District 12-5A title and leapt a then personal-best 47 feet, 7 inches on his last attempt at the Region II-5A meet. Horton qualified for the Class 5A state track and field meet, jumping 47-6¼ to take fourth place.

"He peaked right at the right time," Copperas Cove boys track coach Keith Stifflemire said. "He did a super job when we had to have it. That's a tribute to his triple jump coach (Ryan Youngblood) and how he's worked with him over the year and done a great job with him."

Horton said the reality of jumping in college became clear when he was just one of two sophomores on the varsity two years ago. Distance runner Derwin Graham was the other sophomore - he'll likely compete in college as well.

Horton placed fifth at the 12-5A meet as a sophomore.

His recruitment took shape over the summer after the 35th Great Southwest Track and Field Classic in New Mexico. Horton jumped 49-1½ to take first.

Horton's personal best is a 49-3¾ he jumped at the summer's junior Olympics. He's gone over 50 feet, but those jumps were scratches in meets.

"At the state meet, he scratched a 50-footer just by half an inch," Stifflemire said. "We figured he could get 50 (this year). He was kind of disappointed that he didn't (hit 50) after you've seen that you can do it.

Horton said he's looking to get his personal best well into the 50-feet range.

"I've gotten some big jumps - just not on the board. I know it's possible," Horton said.

Horton had interest from other schools, including Texas A&M, LSU, Florida and Houston. But they couldn't replace his eighth-grade dream.

"They've been No. 1 for a while," Horton said.

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