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All-time UNC Football Top 25 Countdown: No. 19 Ethan Horton

A workhorse in the backfield, the Kannapolis native is among the top tailbacks in UNC history.

Ethan Horton Photo courtesy UNC Athletic Communications

This summer, Tar Heel Blog will profile the top 25 players in the history of the North Carolina football program. The rankings were determined by votes from readers and staff.

By the end of Ethan Horton’s senior season, the North Carolina Tar Heels had accumulated 15 1,000 yard rushers in 11 consecutive seasons from 1973 to 1984. Horton had twice tallied 1,000-yard seasons, and throughout his four years at UNC, his number was called often.

Career at UNC

Ethan Horton Career Statistics

Year Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards Rushing Average Rushing TDs Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving Average Receiving TDs Kick Returns Kick Return Yards Kick Return Average Kick Return TDs
Year Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards Rushing Average Rushing TDs Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving Average Receiving TDs Kick Returns Kick Return Yards Kick Return Average Kick Return TDs
1981 40 144 3.6 1 0 0 0 0 5 108 21.6 0
1982 126 576 4.6 7 12 156 13 2 1 14 14 0
1983 200 1107 5.5 8 9 85 9.4 0 2 42 21 0
1984 238 1247 5.2 6 25 254 10.2 3 0 0 0 0
Totals 604 3074 5.1 22 46 495 10.8 5 8 164 20.5 0

Horton’s 3,074 rushing yards are tied for sixth in a career at UNC. His 1,247 rushing yards in 1984 is the seventh-highest season mark in program history. In rushing attempts, Horton has the fifth-most in a career with 604 and his 238 attempts in 1984 are the seventh-highest ever in a season at Carolina. Throughout his career as a Tar Heel, Horton racked up 17 100-yard games, tied for the third-most in program history.

After last season, Horton now ranks 10th at Carolina in career all-purpose yards with 3,733. His 1,501 all-purpose yards in 1984 ranked 10th in a single season at UNC before T.J. Logan’s 1,584 all-purpose yards last year moved bumped Horton out of the top ten.

Honors and Awards

In 1983 and 1984, Horton was named an All-American and a member of the All-ACC first team. The AP named Horton the ACC Player of the Year in 1984. His senior year, he earned the Patterson Medal, the UNC award for top athlete.

Horton’s #12 jersey is honored in Kenan Memorial Stadium. He was named an ACC Legend in 2010.

Top Games at UNC

In Horton’s freshman year, he was named the co-MVP of the 1981 Gator Bowl along with UNC standout Kelvin Bryant. In that 31-27 win over Arkansas, Horton ran for 144 yards on 27 attempts, and scored a pair of rushing touchdowns, including the decisive score in the fourth quarter. Horton matched his regular season rushing total in the bowl game alone, and was just a taste of what was to come from the talented running back.

In 1982, Horton ran for 201 yards versus Vanderbilt, the first of two 200-yard rushing games in his Carolina career. That year in the Christmas Day Sun Bowl versus Texas, Horton was named the MVP of Carolina’s 26-10 victory. In his last game as a Tar Heel, Kelvin Bryant was injured and Horton replaced him in the backfield. Horton took advantage of the opportunity, rushing for 119 yards and the only offensive touchdown for UNC that day.

The next year, Horton and Tyrone Anthony became in the third Carolina running back duo to each rush for 1,000 yards on the season. Horton ran for 1,107 yards and Anthony rushed for 1,063 yards. The pair had some outstanding rushing performances that year. In a 42-14 slaughter of the Wolfpack in Raleigh, Anthony ran for 130 yards and Horton rushed for 111.

In the first game under the lights at Kenan, UNC hosted the team from Durham and won 34-27. Anthony ran for 232 yards and Horton added 107 on the ground. The only time in program history when three players each ran for over 100 yards occurred when Carolina hosted Wake Forest that year. Anthony ran for 157 yards, Horton for 116 yards, and Eddie Colson for 119 yards.

In 1984, Horton churned out his second 200-yard performance against Memphis State. His 39 rushing attempts in the game are tied for fourth-most in a single game in program history. His 16 attempts in a quarter are a Carolina record. He matched that mark in the next game against Maryland.

Against Boston College, Horton ran for a 79-yard touchdown, the 14th-longest in program history. Horton was involved in another game of two 100-yard rushers. In that 28-21 victory over NC State, Horton ran for 122 yards and William Humes rushed for 156 yards.

After UNC

Horton was selected 15th overall in the 1985 NFL Draft by Kansas City. He struggled with the Chiefs as a running back and was cut at the end of his rookie season. He had a brief stint with the LA Raiders before being cut again.

In 1989, he returned to the league and found success as a tight end. For five seasons, from 1990 to his retirement after the 1994 season, he was a starting tight end for the Raiders and Redskins.

Ethan Horton Getty

In 1991, he was named to the Pro Bowl after career highs in receiving yards (650) and touchdowns (5). He competed in five playoff games with the Raiders over the course of three seasons, totaling 248 receiving yards and two touchdowns.