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Horton Reflects On Katrina, Family Tragedy...And Football

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Three years ago, on Aug. 23, a hurricane formed over the Bahamas.

It crossed southern Florida as a moderate Category 1 hurricane before strengthening rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico and developing into one of the strongest hurricanes on record while at sea.

Hurricane Katrina was a Category 3 storm when it later struck southeast Louisiana and the Louisiana/Mississippi state line. The most severe loss of life--at least 1,836 people--and property occurred in New Orleans and surrounding communities in Louisiana

It proved to the costliest and one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States.

This is a story all Americans know all too well.

This is a story Chris Horton, the Redskins' rookie safety out of UCLA who is trying to land a roster spot with the Redskins, knows at an even deeper level.

"Three years ago, I'm coming off wrist surgery and thinking about playing ball at UCLA. Then Katrina hits," Horton said.

The conversation stops. Abruptly.

Back home in Louisiana, his family, like many in the region, basically was devastated during Katrina.

His mother, grandmother, brother and three sisters saw their home destroyed, according to Horton, and they re-located to Texas for an extended period.

Horton, speaking after Thursday afternoon's practice at Redskins Park, said the most difficult situation for his family came when his great-grandfather died in the destruction.

George Falley, 90, was missing for weeks.

Three years later, Horton said, his mother and several family members have moved back to Metairie, a New Orleans suburb in Jefferson Parish.

With their home destroyed, they lived just across the street.

"Sometime in the next few days," Horton said, "people in my family from all over are planning to get together again. It's a special tribute to my great-grandfather."

This Saturday night, though, Horton will be in North Carolina for the Redskins-Panthers preseason game.

Like all rookies, Horton, a seventh-round pick (249th overall) by the Redskins, realizes he has to make the most of every opportunity.

In his first NFL action, against Indianapolis in the Aug. 3 Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, Horton had a pair of sacks just 17 minutes apart.

That meant coming in on a pair of blitzes and hauling down Colts backup quarterback Jared Lorenzen, who goes 6-4 and 285 pounds.

Even though it was just preseason, the sacks registered by the 6-1, 216-pound Horton on the much stouter Lorenzen enlivened veteran defenders on the sidelines.

"That guy's big," Horton said with a smile. "I remember watching him when he played at the University of Kentucky. He's tougher to bring down than most quarterbacks.

"I was just playing how the Washington Redskins play defense: aggressively. I was just doing my part when my number was called."

Horton has shown progress during preseason, with five tackles versus Indianapolis and six against the Jets at the Meadowlands.

In between, Horton struggled with a stomach ailment that cost him some practice time and forced him to sit out the game against the Bills at FedExField.

He said it was "very frustrating" to miss the Buffalo game, adding: "Every play, every rep means a lot to me."

Safety has been one of the unsettled positions around Redskins Park this summer.

Heading into the fourth pre-season game at Carolina, LaRon Landry at free safety and Reed Doughty at strong safety were listed as the starters at the positions. A hamstring injury has kept Landry sidelined for most of camp.

Veteran Vernon Fox was No. 2 at strong safety, ahead of Horton. Rookie Kareem Moore was listed as No. 2 behind Landry. Also in the mix as free safety were Patrick Ghee and Justin Hamilton.

In something of a surprise, veteran Stuart Schweigert was released early in camp. Schweigert has since gone on to battle for a roster spot with the Giants.

What all of that fluctuation suggests is that there may be an opportunity for a young player like Horton.

Defensive coordinator Greg Blache said the team's young safeties have been up and down this preseason and that they have some maturing to do before the bell rings Sept. 4 in Giants Stadium.

"Anybody can play every now and then, but it's consistency we're looking for--to consistently be able to do the correct things at a very high pace," he said. "I haven't seen that yet from any of them. They've shown us that they can, but they haven't done it consistently enough for us to trust them.

"At the end of the day, trust is everything."

Horton says he understands that kind of criticism and that he's working hard to make corrections.

"I do some thing well," he noted, "but then, there's always some little thing I mess up."

Horton was born in Los Angeles but grew up in New Orleans, where he attended De La Salle High School.

At UCLA, Horton played for defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, the former Redskins assistant. In his first start, versus arch-rival USC in 2005, Horton produced seven tackles.

As a junior and a senior, Horton started all 26 games and contributed 185 tackles. He played against Southern Cal's Fred Davis, another Redskin rookie draft pick, three times at the college level.

In 2007, Horton had a 16-tackle game at Washington State and a three-sack game versus Arizona State. He made some All-America teams and was named All Pac-10.

Quite obviously, this is a big stretch of days for Horton as he tries to carve out a professional future.

But his thoughts won't be far from Louisiana, where his family will be remembering a loved one who has passed.

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