It's perhaps the most important thing a college football player competing for a starting spot in fall camp can receive: the stamp of approval from his position coach.
USC defensive end Wes Horton has that from defensive line coach Ed Orgeron.
Horton is, alongside Devon Kennard and Nick Perry, one of three talented defensive ends in fall camp for USC this year who are starter-quality. But Orgeron said Wednesday that Horton has impressed him more than any other end -- and any other player on the defensive line, for that matter -- and he has kept his starting spot over Kennard through the first week of fall camp.
"He really has worked hard," said Orgeron, also the team's defensive coordinator. "He has totally bought into the program, too. He's an excellent young man. He's into details and he comes to work with a blue-collar mentality.
"You can't just coach enough of those guys."
His character is worth mentioning, but it's also a forgotten fact that Horton tied for the team lead in sacks last season with four, even while starting fewer than half the games and appearing in only 10 of the 13 because of a back injury. The book on him has long been that he's a nice rotation player.
He's out to prove he's more than just that, and he's on his way to doing so in camp.
"The biggest thing is improving the little things, you know: alignment, footwork, trying to work on my pad level and obviously my pass rush," Horton said Wednesday. "I feel like I had a good offseason of film work and getting my body right. I feel like pass rush is slowly starting to progress to the next level."
Horton's not the quickest end -- that's Perry, one of the fastest players on the team. But he's the tallest and the heaviest at 6 feet 5, 265 pounds, and that's worth something when trying to get to the quarterback.
"He has technique, and he has long leverage," Orgeron said. "He's a long guy and he has long arms and he really works to use them the right way."
Ask Horton, a redshirt junior, what he wants to work on specifically in pass-rushing situations, and you'll get a long list just off the top of his head. He named six different things he wass working on Wednesday, from replacing his down hand while in his stance to getting off quicker at the exact time of the snap.
“You’ve gotta put everything together to get to the quarterback," he said.
That's the focus at end: getting to the quarterback. But Horton has also began playing some defensive tackle over the last few days of camp, where that's less emphasized. At tackle, where he'd theoretically rotate in on passing downs with DaJohn Harris, Christian Tupou and George Uko, Horton would still be asked to sack the signal-caller, but he'd also be required to pay more attention to the run game and clog the middle at times.
He's OK with that. And he says he believes he'll still doing a lot of pass-rushing, regardless of where he'll be playing.
“They just want the four best rushers on the field," Horton said. "With me, they tried me one day inside and I did pretty well and they feel like it doesn’t really matter where they put me, they’re gonna put the four best rushers on the field.
"I don’t have a problem with it. I’m just gonna look at it as a new challenge and just try to get some sacks from the inside."