Logan Horton, the top-rated fullback in the 2020 recruiting classPhoto credit: 247Sports
PORTLAND, Ore. — Logan Horton gets up from the kitchen table of his family’s 22nd-floor apartment overlooking the wintry gloom in downtown Portland, walks to the kitchen counter and hands over a two-page list of names. His mother, Beth, helped him put the list together, and it’s almost obsessively comprehensive: every fullback who has played in the National Football League in recent years, along with their salary and their contract details, including how much of that money is guaranteed.
There are more names on it than you might think, and at the top of the list is the San Francisco 49ers’ Kyle Juszczyk, who, over the course of this past season, has become the most high-profile professional fullback of the recent modern era. Logan says that he and his mother tend to dive down fullback-related rabbit holes sometimes. The other night, they spent hours compiling a spreadsheet with the name of every college fullback in the country.
Lists like this, plus long sessions watching YouTube videos of fullbacks past and present, infuse them both with hope; it helps them to believe that Logan’s football future is not as clouded with doubt as the conventional wisdom might make it seem. It makes them feel that a fullback like Logan can still exist in a world where football has become increasingly enamored by spread offenses and passing concepts that have threatened to render the position obsolete.
“Football is a game of body types,” Horton says. “And I happen to have the body of a fullback.”
For nearly two years, Horton has been held up as an avatar of football’s dusty past, a teenage relic who emerged in the wrong time and place and with the wrong skill set. After his junior year at Jesuit High School in suburban Portland, 247Sports listed him as the top fullback recruit in the country, a ranking that might have held more weight if 247Sports had rated more than four fullbacks nationally. Still, he assumed scholarship offers would come rolling in. They didn’t. As he heads into the final months of his senior year, Horton is the only one of those four fullbacks who has yet to commit to a college.
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In part, this is by design. Horton is holding out hope that at the last minute, in the weeks after the Feb. 5 national signing day, some college will swoop in late and make him an offer he can’t refuse. His dream school, Stanford—one of the few college programs that still has a dedicated scholarship for the position—is too loaded with fullbacks to take him at the moment, unless he’d be willing to sit through his first couple of years as a walk-on with no guarantee of ever playing.
Horton has a handful of invitations to attend other schools as a preferred walk-on—his GPA last semester was 4.0, so those offers include at least one Ivy League school, Columbia—but no full scholarship offers at all.
“I thought if you put in the hard work and the effort, the results would come,” Horton says. “I just wasn’t aware of, not necessarily the politics of it, but the specific requirements. A lot of coaches say they like me, but they don’t have a scholarship spot for me because they haven’t had a fullback on the roster in a long time.”
As much as he understands it isn’t really his fault—as much as he understands he is a victim of circumstance—he remains convinced of both his own usefulness and of the usefulness of a position he believes he was born to play. After all, two of the NFL’s most innovative offenses—the 49ers, with Juszczyk, and the Baltimore Ravens, with Pro Bowler Patrick Ricard—relied heavily on a fullback this season. In October, FiveThirtyEight’s Josh Hermsmeyer crunched the numbers in a story headlined, “Reports of the Fullback’s Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.”
Perhaps, Horton thinks, the pendulum is beginning to swing back in his favor. And perhaps by the time he reaches his prime college years, fullback will feel less like an antiquated position and more like a necessity for a modern offense to operate at its full potential.
Horton shows his versatility on both sides of the ball.Photo credit: 247Sports
Horton spent his middle school years as a standout running back, quarterback and linebacker, but when he arrived at Jesuit, his coach, Ken Potter, saw something else. Horton was not especially tall, but he had thick legs and a powerful build. Potter had incorporated a fullback into his scheme for more than three decades, ever since he ran the wing-T offense when he first became coach at Jesuit in the 1980s.
So he pulled Horton aside and said, “I think you’re a fullback.”
At first, Horton had no real concept of what that meant. He’d heard the term, but he’d never really seen it in action. He’d grown up in Portland, where both Oregon and Oregon State trended toward spread schemes. Beyond Stanford, where Jesuit graduate Owen Marecic had played as both a fullback and linebacker, there were barely any fullbacks to observe in the Pacific time zone.
So he did what teenagers do: He went to YouTube and started looking up clips. He found video of Patriots fullback James Develin, who had come out of Brown University; he found video of Juszczyk, who went to Harvard. And he quickly came to realize that playing fullback was just fine with him.
He worked with Marecic’s former trainer to build up his body for the position, and at 6’1″, 215 pounds, he’s hoping to gain more weight heading into college. Horton enjoys having the ball in his hands, but playing fullback allowed him to embrace the physicality of the sport, both as a linebacker on defense and on offense.
Former Stanford fullback Owen MarecicJed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Over time, he began to learn the nuances of his position—how to get his footwork right so he could make blocks on the run, how to run short pass patterns that could turn into long gains, and how to plow over smaller and less physical linebackers on blocks in the open field.
This past season, he paved the way for a pair of prolific running backs at Jesuit, including 2,000-yard rusher Kade Wisher, as the Crusaders went 10-3 and made it to the state semifinals. Part of the key to Jesuit’s success, Potter says, is the teams they were playing had rarely faced any fullback, let alone a physical presence like Horton.
“They’re only seeing a fullback once or twice a year,” Potter says. “They may have linebackers who are really fast, but for them to face up against someone like Logan—they’re not used to doing that. And he runs good routes and catches the ball, and that puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”
This is why Potter is surprised that Horton hasn’t gotten more interest from major colleges: A number of those schools resort to converting a player at another position into a fullback, but Horton already has those skills.
Over three decades of coaching, Potter has seen enough to know the sport goes through cycles—that football’s evolution is constant. There are hints the high-profile success of a fullback like Juszczyk may already be altering the narrative.
Horton celebrates during a Jesuit High School game.Photo courtesy of Logan Horton
Of course, that narrative may not change soon enough for Horton to land a full scholarship next season. At the moment, he’s leaning toward a pair of schools: Oregon State, whose coaches have expressed interest in building a package of plays that would incorporate a fullback, and the University of San Diego, which has a long tradition of utilizing a fullback. A couple of weeks ago, he received a visit from the coaching staff at Cal, who expressed the same interest in installing a fullback package as Oregon State.
There are stirrings, then, of a revival on the college level, but not enough for any of those schools to guarantee Horton a scholarship yet. For now, he has to confront certain questions, which Horton’s father, Vail, poses to his son as he enters the kitchen: Do you want to play in front of a Pac-12 crowd of tens of thousands or an FCS crowd of hundreds? How do the academics fit? And how do you know which coaches are simply giving a sales pitch and which actually want you?
“For the family,” Vail says, “it’s been a roller coaster in many ways. But for me it’s been fine, because I’m used to handling adversity.”
Vail, born without legs or a fully developed right hand, built a successful medical device company and now works full time for a nonprofit. The dilemma his son faces as a fullback obviously pales in comparison. But Vail almost seems to relish the challenge it presents to Logan, the way it’s forced him to think out his decision-making process, and the notion that maybe his story could inspire other fullbacks or kickers or “all those kids who are passionate about the sport and work their ass off,” Vail says, “and then they get to the finish line, and it’s like…uh…”
Soon enough, likely within another month or two, Logan will have to make a college decision, to fill out the ellipses in his father’s thinking. He’ll play somewhere, and Potter believes that wherever Horton does wind up, he’ll play extensively, simply because he has a skill set that few others have coming out of high school.
Maybe the zeitgeist will swing back in his direction, and maybe he’ll find himself on one of those NFL fullback spreadsheets someday, making enough money to attend business school or launch an engineering career once he’s done playing. But the important thing, Logan believes, is that he’s stayed true to who he is.
“Maybe I wasn’t tall enough to play quarterback, and maybe I wasn’t coordinated enough to play running back,” he says. “But this is a story of me taking what I was given and running with it. And gaining a love for the position in the meantime.”