Working the phones, not to mention Twitter, Instagram and other social media out there during the NFL draft, well, you come across the craziest things. The stories. The memories. The insight.
In a story for Redlands, it seems as if this area has produced six NFL draftees, the latest being Redlands East Valley’s Kylie Fitts — picked by the Bears last year, now with the Arizona Cardinals.
I was hoping to get comments from, or about, each of the six — Patrick Johnson, Greg Horton, Jim Weatherwax, Fitts, Bruce Gibson or Brian DeRoo. I know, I know. It’s old news (though it might be news to some folks).
As events turned out, University of Redlands cornerback Jeff Hector was picked up — undrafted — by the Baltimore Ravens, who also picked up a bevy of talent from major colleges (Utah, Clemson, Oregon, et al) from around the country. It illustrates just how much potential that 6-foot, 185-pounder from Peninsula High has on the field.
Here’s how I picked up that story tip:
Chatting with Shirley Horton, Horton’s widow of the retired NFL great lineman. Trying to pick her brain on anything Greg might’ve told her about the draft. His memories. Any insight. Experiences.
No, they weren’t married by 1974, which was Horton’s draft year.
No, they didn’t even know each other yet.
No, he didn’t talk much about the draft.
She said, “I do know he didn’t want to get picked up by the Bears.” Chicago, then under head coach Abe Gibron, drafted Horton in 1974. “He wanted to go to the Rams.”
Shirley was sorry, though, that she didn’t know that much more. On a bright note, she said, “someone from the University of Redlands got picked up.”
Oh? Hadn’t heard that yet! Which player?
“Where did you hear that?” I asked her.
“I heard it from the Benchwarmers,” she said, referring to the local sports booster club, “but I can’t remember the name. If I remember, I’ll text it to you.”
I broke speed records to the goredlands.com website, seeking information. It hadn’t yet been posted. Just then, Shirley texted me.
It read: “He was a defensive back, Jeff Hector to the Ravens.”
Gotta admit, Hector had a great season in maroon & gray.
A quick text to Mike Maynard, Hector’s head coach at Redlands.
Could he confirm?
Maynard texted me a graphic, showing the Ravens’ logo, offering a glimpse of Hector’s photo in a gray Bulldog jersey, proclaiming, “Signed!”
As for Greg Horton, Shirley said her man figured out a way to get moved to the Rams. Already on that team were the likes of linemen Dennis Harrah, Tom Mack, Doug France and John Williams — all No. 1 draft picks. Only center Rich Saul was a non-No. 1.
Horton was a right guard from Colorado, a third-round pick. Traded to Tampa Bay in 1978. By then, Gibron had been fired in Chicago. Turned up as a Buccaneers’ assistant coach.
Shirley said, “Abe Gibron told Greg, ‘After all this time, I finally get to coach you.’ ”
* * *
As for Hector, consider that few NCAA Division III players truly get a shot at the NFL. Same with D-3 college basketballers. Or basketball players. Or any other D-3 athletes.
Face it: There just isn’t enough high-level competition at those levels — as hard-nosed and hard-working as they are — to attract the likes of this country’s top sports scouts and front office personnel.
It’s possible that Hector could’ve played Div. 1 ball — somewhere — but Redlands landed him out of a light-hitting L.A. Southwest College (JUCO) squad after playing on an un-achieving Palos Verdes High School. Leave it to Maynard & Co. to find a gem in the rough.
Leave it to NFL scouts to find a brightening gem in an openly talented program.