When Alex Hornibrook took to the stage to play the guitar at The Buckinghams in April, the Wisconsin quarterback’s performance revealed two things. The first was, well, he’s really good. His take on Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried” got played on local radio the day after and it even got the seal of approval from the band itself. The second and more interesting aspect, at least when it comes to football, is the fact that he somehow found the time to actually learn how to play.
From the outside looking in, even for most of those that cover the team on a day-to-day basis, it seemed as if Hornibrook was all football, all the time. Save for a few pictures from a concert, baseball game or a family function, the junior’s social media is filled with football. His offseason schedule included two more visits to QB guru George Whitfield Jr. in California, time working out in Nashville and a second straight trip to the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana. That’s not even counting winter conditioning, spring practice and summer workouts that he does with the rest of the team.
So when did he find the time to learn the instrument while at the same time being a two-time All-Big Ten academic honoree and serving as the offensive leader of a top-10 team in the country?
“I think there is a component of balance, which I think he does a good job of. You got to have a balanced life,” Wisconsin quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr said in the spring. “But, at the same time, there’s a lot that goes into playing this position and a lot of time that is taken in preparation and effort. He knows that’s what makes him great and what can make him great. It’s really important to him, and I think that’s why he puts so much time in.”
All the time he’s put in has paid dividends for the Pennsylvania native. After his first two years, a majority of which came as the starter, he’s already in the top 10 in Wisconsin history in passing yards, completions, completion percentage, touchdowns and passing efficiency. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Hornibrook also sits just 11 wins shy of Joel Stave’s record for most wins in school history. If the season goes as planned, he could break the mark this year.
Hornibrook is coming off what was arguably the best performance of his career — an Orange Bowl victory over Miami that saw him throw four touchdowns and be named the Most Valuable Player. But he didn’t spend much time celebrating that accomplishment. Instead, there he was, just a few days later, in Southern California working out.
“I think it’s good to just keep working out instead of going home and just sitting on the couch or throwing to a couple buddies…,” Hornibrook said in the spring of not taking that time off during winter break. “[I’d rather] get out there and start doing some drills and stuff. It’s good.”
So, what did Hornibrook work on this offseason? Among the highest priorities was focusing on what led to his 15 interceptions last year, including a stretch of eight straight Big Ten games where he turned it over at least once.
“You could take every phase,” coach Paul Chryst said when asked where he was looking for Hornibrook to improve. “If it’s something with footwork, he’s done some good stuff, but can clean this up. Play-action, situational football. It’s not just, ‘we want you to throw fewer interceptions.’”
Trying to improve in every aspect during an offseason is daunting. It’s why many of the best quarterbacks, including the Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers, choose instead to focus on one part of their games. Hornibrook is no different.
“From a physical standpoint, there’s constant work on pocket awareness, pocket movements, the throwing motion and are we being as efficient as possible [and] maximizing velocity,” Budmayr said. “I think he’s done a great job of picking a few areas and then honing in on them.”
Biggest question: Is Jack Coan ready?
Hornibrook started all 14 games a year ago, and it’s a good thing he did as his backup was true freshman Jack Coan.
An early enrollee, Coan beat out the since departed Kare Lyles for the job and appeared in six games. He completed all five of the passes he threw and didn’t look overwhelmed. But that was in garbage time. What if Hornibrook goes down in a big game this year and Coan is called upon? Is he ready?
It was a small sample size, but the work he did in the spring suggests he is. Budmayr lauded his decision making and production, which led to more and more reps over the 15 practices.
“I’ve been really happy with the way he’s worked,” Budmayr said. “His approach [was] awesome the whole spring.”
What they said:
“I know it may sound like a cliche, but it’s the truth. Competition is within yourself. Jack needs to understand that. Alex needs to understand that. When Alex Hornibrook is the best Alex Hornibrook he can be, our team is going to be good. When Jack Coan is the best Jack Coan he can be, our team is going to be good.”
| Budmayr when asked whether the starting and backup jobs were set in stone.
This may be overly obvious, but Wisconsin’s championship aspirations, both in the Big Ten and on a national level, will hinge heavily on Hornibrook. When he plays at a high level — and don’t let his detractors tell you he didn’t at times in 2017 — the Badgers are going to be dangerous. Wisconsin hasn’t had a collection of talent at the skill positions and along the offensive line like it does this season since 2011. That group just happened to set the school record for points per game at 41.1. With a healthy and productive Hornibrook, the 2018 offense has the chance to be just as special as that group.
Projected depth chart:
1) Alex Hornibrook (JR)
2) Jack Coan (SO)
3) Danny Vanden Boom (RS FR)
4) Chase Wolf (FR)
“The Camp” QB preview