NORMAN – For the first time in his career, Cade Horton had to take a backseat.
After being the star of every field he stepped on in high school – football and baseball – Horton was forced to watch the entire 2021 campaign unfold from the dugout while he worked his way back from Tommy John surgery.
A year later, the Norman native is set to play in his first Bedlam series when OU begins a three-game stretch at Oklahoma State on Friday. The redshirt freshman infielder and pitcher will be a key player for the Sooners, which is a stark difference from his role during last season’s meeting.
“It was the first time in my career that I just sat back and watched the game,” Horton said. “I learned a lot about myself and how the game is played.”
Horton embraced a role that was entirely new to him.
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Horton arrived at OU prior to the 2021 campaign as a dual-sport commit from Norman High.
In football, he racked up 4,233 total yards and 41 touchdowns as a senior quarterback. In baseball, he dominated as a pitcher and was rated the No. 2 player in the state by Perfect Game.
Horton opted to focus on baseball when he arrived on OU’s campus, but he never got the chance to show out on the diamond. Just a few weeks before the start of the season, he underwent surgery to repair a damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
But he embraced being a bench guy.
If a teammate struck out at the plate, Horton was there to cheer him up in the dugout. If someone had a fielding error, Horton was there.
“It was a really cool opportunity to see how big of an impact bench players play and what their role is,” Horton said. “As a competitor, I wanted to do what was best for my team. I took on that role and responsibility.”
Horton is working his way back into the spotlight with the Sooners this season.
It’s a process that’s going to take time for Horton after he went nearly two years without playing in a game. His senior season at Norman High got canceled due to COVID-19, and his freshman campaign with OU got spoiled by his injury.
Horton is batting .250 this season with 13 RBIs and 19 runs to his name. He has made an appearance at the plate in all 27 of OU’s games so far, but his time on the mound has been far more limited.
OU is playing it safe with Horton, who has pitched just under two innings in two appearances. He has allowed three hits and two runs during that time.
“It’s tough,” Horton said of his limited pitching opportunities. “It’s fun going back out there and pitching, but at the same time we have to do it the right way.”
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Horton has placed his trust in the game plan of head coach Skip Johnson, who knows a thing or two about pitching.
Since beginning his Division I coaching career at Texas in 2007 as a pitching coach, Johnson has helped 52 pitchers get selected in the MLB Draft.
Johnson’s connection to the league doesn’t stop there. He has mentored players such as Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who is a three-time Cy Young Award winner.
“The knowledge that Skip has is incredible,” Horton said. “Just being able to be coached by someone like him has really impacted my career and a lot of other peoples’ careers. He gets us in the best position possible to have success, so it’s been really awesome playing under him.”
Johnson’s eye for pitching talent is as good as they come, and the fifth-year OU head coach sees potential in Horton.
It’s just a matter of bringing it into the spotlight one day at a time.
“Cade has worked extremely hard, and he’s really talented,” Johnson said. “We’re just getting him back on the field and getting him acclimated to playing college baseball … What he has learned is the grind of it every day.”
More: 2022 Oklahoma Sooners baseball roster breakdown and schedule
Justin Martinez can be reached at email@example.com or @JTheSportsDude on Twitter. Make sure to subscribe to The Oklahoman to stay up to date with all local sports.