Wisconsin names Alex Hornibrook its starting quarterback for 2017

MADISON — Wisconsin has named its starting quarterback before spring practice even got underway.

In an article on the team’s website, coach Paul Chryst said that redshirt sophomore Alex Hornibrook is his starter heading into 2017.

“He is the guy,” Chryst told UWBadgers.com. “He knows it and he thinks it.”

As a redshirt freshman, Hornibrook started nine games while sharing time with senior Bart Houston. He threw for 1,262 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions.

“Couldn’t be more excited about Alex,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said on National Signing Day. “What he was able to do in his redshirt freshman year is huge. You don’t see that. It’s uncommon.”

With Hornibrook installed as the starter, the battle for the backup job falls to redshirt freshman Kare Lyles and true freshman Jack Coan, who enrolled early.

“It’ll elevate that position and provide us depth going into the season. Real depth, not just someone who can go out there and line up,” Rudolph said of the competition. “Somebody with enough knowledge and the ability to learn this spring, go through some good and some bad, (and then) truly have a plan in the summer of how they better approach it to get themselves ready for fall camp. I think it will be really beneficial for us.”

Wisconsin opens spring practice on Tuesday morning. It’s the first of 15 sessions, culminating with the annual Spring Game on Friday, April 21.

Wisconsin confirms the hiring of former OL coach Bob Bostad as its ILB coach.

MADISON — Wisconsin confirmed late Friday morning that it has hired former offensive line coach Bob Bostad as the team’s inside linebackers coach.

“I’ve had the privilege to work with Bob for a number of years. I know who he is as a coach (and) a person. I think it’s a great fit,” coach Paul Chryst told UWBadgers.com. “He’s been here. He knows the type of kids that have success at Wisconsin. Couldn’t really be more excited to have Bob here.”

Bostad is filling the void left by Justin Wilcox leaving to take the head coaching job at California. It will be Bostad’s first time on the defensive side of the ball in his 27-year career, though he did play linebacker in college at UW-Stevens Point in the late 1980s.

“Defensively, a lot of the conversations are about how to stop the run game, how to beat protections. As an offensive line coach, he’s been looking at defenses, specifically the front seven,” Chryst said. “I know he can teach. I know he can coach. I think it’s a great tool, especially for our veteran linebackers, to keep expanding their growth. I think they get to see the game through a little different lens.”

Bostad is more well known as an offensive line coach, serving in that post at Wisconsin from 2008 to 2011 after spending his first two seasons coaching the tight ends and serving as running game coordinator. Over his six years in Madison, Bostad coached 11 players that went on to get drafted in the NFL, including three first-round picks.

“There will be a learning curve and all that,” Bostad told UWBadgers.com of the move to defense. “I hope to take the edge off in the spring and all that stuff. Get to know the base defense and the calls and the fits and coverages and all those things. But after that, I think it’s going to come down to, like any other position, it’s going to come down to the details.”

Bostad went with Chryst when he got the Pittsburgh head coaching job in 2012 but never coached a game, instead being tabbed to coach the line with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL. He was there for two years before taking the same position with the Tennessee Titans. He spent last season coaching the tight ends and fullbacks at Northern Illinois.

The group Bostad inherits is among the more talented on the Wisconsin roster. The Badgers return their top six inside linebackers from 2016, including juniors T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly, while senior Jack Cichy and sophomore Chris Orr will be back on the field after injuries end their seasons early last fall.

“It seems like a really blue collar group. Tough guys, finish guys,” Bostad said. “I like that mentality and what they’re going to bring to the table.”

Wisconsin picks up three in-state commitments in the class of 2018

MADISON — Wisconsin added three commitments to its class of 2018 on Monday.

First, it was Catholic Memorial (Waukesha, Wis.) inside linebacker C.J. Goetz, who received a scholarship offer from the Badgers on Sunday. He wasted no time in pulling the trigger, calling coach Paul Chryst Monday morning to commit.

Then, Kimberly (Kimberly, Wis.) defensive end Boyd Dietzen followed suit, announcing his commitment to the Badgers just before noon.

And finally, Menominee (Menominee, Wis.) linebacker Mason Platter gave his verbal pledge early in the afternoon.

Goetz, a 3-star recruit, according to 247 Sports, chose the Badgers over offers from Bowling Green, New Mexico and Northern Illinois. Michigan State and several other Big Ten schools were showing interest in the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder.

Dietzen, a three-time state champion at Kimberly, picked Wisconsin over recent offers from Minnesota, Iowa State and Syracuse. 247 Sports lists the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Dietzen as the No. 19 defensive end in the country, and the No. 1 player in the state of Wisconsin for 2018.

Platter is the third commitment from Menominee in as many years, joining linebacker Mason Stokke from 2016 and lineman Alex Fenton in 2017. A 3-star recruit, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Platter had a scholarship offer from Northern Illinois, but as generating interest from Iowa and Minnesota.

The trio joins quarterback Ben Bryant (La Grange, Ill.), safety Reggie Pearson (River Rouge, Mich.) and safety Trent Ingalls (Menasha, Wis.) as commitments in 2018.

Jim Leonhard promoted to defensive coordinator at Wisconsin

MADISON — Wisconsin has its new defensive coordinator.

Late Thursday afternoon, the school announced that secondary coach Jim Leonhard had been promoted to the position after just one year as a coach.

“I love teaching the game of football. The last year really has been great learning the college game again,” Leonhard told UWBadgers.com. “Now, I’m looking forward to having a little more say as to what we do and how we do it. Just the approach I want to have to teach these guys.”

A former walk-on turned three-time All-American at Wisconsin, Leonhard spent 10 years in the NFL before taking a year off in 2015. When the opportunity to join his alma mater came in 2016, he jumped at it. And now, less than a year after taking that job, he’s being called on to run the entire defense.

“To me, for a coordinator, there has to be certainly a football knowledge level,” coach Paul Chryst told UWBadgers.com. “Jimmy has far more than just a one-year level of coaching knowledge; X’s and O’s, scheme knowledge. In fact, I think he has got great football schematic knowledge.

“And, then, I think a big part of coordinating is connecting. It’s connecting the coaches and coming up with and coordinating the different units into a scheme. It’s connecting the coaches to players. It’s finding ways to connect players to players and how you play.”

Chryst said he spoke with the two other defensive assistants — outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar and defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield — but felt Leonhard was the best option to replace Justin Wilcox, who left to take the head coaching job at California last month.

Long considered to be a coach on the field during his playing career, Leonhard now has the reigns to a defense that has been among the best in the nation the last four seasons.

“To me, it’s just taking that baton and putting my stamp on it,” Leonhard said. “Being myself and doing it my way but making the players understand that it’s their defense and they’re going to control where this thing goes.”

Wisconsin expects decision on defensive coordinator soon

MADISON | Wisconsin is close to naming a new defensive coordinator.

That was the word from coach Paul Chryst early Wednesday afternoon. During the Badgers National Signing Day special on UWBadgers.com, Chryst was asked about a replacement for Justin Wilcox, who left to be the head coach at California last month.

“When Justin left, it gave me time to think about and talk to a number of different people,” Chryst said. “I would anticipate by the end of this week having a decision.”

It’s remains to be seen if Chryst will stay in house to fill the position, potentially tabbing outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar, secondary coach Jim Leonhard or defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield. Or if he’ll go outside the program and bring in someone comfortable running the 3-4 scheme implemented when former coach Gary Andersen and former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda came to Wisconsin in 2013.

Leonhard just completed his first season as a coach after spending four years at Wisconsin and 10 years playing in the NFL. It was a good first step, but is he ready to be a defensive coordinator?

“Possibly,” Leonhard said Wednesday. “We’ll see what happens. I know Coach Chryst wants to make that decision in the near future.

“I’m excited for the future of myself (in) coaching. I don’t know what path that’s going to take right now.”

Tibesar was considered for the job last year before Chryst went with Wilcox. Though he didn’t want to discuss the job on National Signing Day, asked point blank whether he wanted to be the defensive coordinator Tibesar was clear.

“Absolutely.”

Wisconsin renews Paul Chryst’s contract, now runs through the 2021 season

MADISON — Wisconsin has renewed the contracts of two coaches and extended the contracts of two others.

Among the contract renewed was that of football coach Paul Chryst. His five-year deal now runs through the 2021 season. Chryst made $2.7 million for the 2016 season, and his contract contains a clause that increases that by $100,000 each year.

In his first two years at Wisconsin, the Badgers are 21-6, tied with former coach Bret Bielema for the most wins to start a coaching career in Madison. Chryst also won his first two bowl games — the Holiday Bowl in December of 2015 and the Cotton Bowl earlier this month — joining former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez as the only Wisconsin coaches to accomplish that feat.

The other coaches affected:

Volleyball coach Kelly Sheffield’s five-year contract was extended through January 31, 2022.

Women’s soccer coach Paula Wilkins’s three-year contract was renewed through January 31, 2020.

Men’s soccer coach John Trask’s three-year contract was extended through January 31, 2020.

Report: Wisconsin DC Justin Wilcox in contract negotiations to become California’s next head coach

MADISON | Wisconsin is about to be in the market for a new defensive coordinator.

Multiple outlets are reporting that Justin Wilcox is on the verge of being named the head coach at California, replacing the fired Sonny Dykes. The 40-year-old interviewed for the position on Tuesday, and according to Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman, Wilcox and Cal were in contract negotiations Thursday afternoon.

Wilcox coached the linebackers in Berkley from 2003 to 2005 before becoming a successful defensive coordinator at several different schools, including Boise State and Washington. An Oregon native, Wilcox just finished his first year at Wisconsin, overseeing a unit that finished fourth in the country in points allowed per game.

The impending departure means coach Paul Chryst will be looking for a new defensive coordinator for a second straight year after losing Dave Aranda to LSU last January. It’s unclear if he’ll go outside of the program again like he did with Wilcox, or promote from within, with the likes of secondary coach Jim Leonhard and outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar the most likely candidates.

Wilcox was due to make $950,000 in 2017, with a $100,000 bonus if he was still on the staff at the start of 2018. His buyout to leave early will cost him — or more likely California — $25,000.

Report: Wisconsin DC Justin Wilcox the leading candidate for the California head-coaching job

MADISON — Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is the leading candidate to replace the fired Sonny Dykes at California.

That’s according to Scout.com’s Ryan Gorcey, who covers the Bears.

The 40-year-old Wilcox reportedly interviewed for the job on Tuesday in Berkley, according to Fox Sport’s Bruce Feldman.

Wilcox has ties to the area, having coached the Bears linebackers under former coach Jeff Tedford from 2003 to 2005. Before coming to Wisconsin last January, a majority of Wilcox’s experience came while coaching on the West Coast, and he played his college football at Oregon.

The opportunity for Wilcox comes after just one year in Madison, where he helped put together one of the top defenses in the country, finishing fourth in the nation in scoring defense (15.6 points per game).

If Wilcox ends up getting the Cal job, it’ll force coach Paul Chryst to once again go searching for a defensive coordinator just one year after losing Dave Aranda to LSU. Though it’s possible he would go outside of the program to find his guy, outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar and secondary coach Jim Leonhard would also be potential candidates.

Badgers take in the sights after arriving in Dallas

ARLINGTON, Tex. — The Wisconsin football team touched down in Dallas in time to schedule some sight-seeing around their Tuesday practice.

That practice held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington was attended by some 40 area high school coaches, as well as former Badgers and current Cowboys center Travis Frederick. The Cowboys had just beaten the Lions 42-21 the night before.

“You want them to enjoy the bowl experience,” said coach Paul Chryst. “We’re lucky to be playing in Dallas in the Cotton Bowl. They do so many things for the whole bowl experience. You want them to enjoy that. But, they also need to get on that bus, come over to practice, lock in and make sure they get their work done.”

PHOTO: @BadgerFootball on Instagram

After Tuesday’s practice, the team watched former Wisconsin basketball standout Sam Dekker and the Houston Rockets beat the Dallas Mavericks 123-107 from the American Airlines Arena.

PHOTO: @BadgerFootball on Instagram

PHOTO: @UWBadgers on Twitter

The Badgers continue practice with helmets and shells late Wednesday morning ahead of the 81st Cotton Bowl versus Western Michigan Monday at 12:01 p.m.

Lingering concerns from a head injury kept Alex Hornibrook out of the Big Ten title game

MADISON — Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook was unavailable to play in the Big Ten title game on Dec. 3 despite practicing the entire week leading up to the Badgers matchup with Penn State.

That was the word from the redshirt freshman yesterday when he spoke with reporters for the first time since before the regular-season finale against Minnesota on Nov. 26. Hornibrook, who started the final nine games of the season, was knocked out of the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe in the first half with a head injury.

“I was feeling good during the (Penn State) week in practicing,” Hornibrook said as the Badgers started preparing for their Cotton Bowl matchup with Western Michigan. “I think I wasn’t quite exactly how I usually was. Before the game, I was talking with coach (Chryst), and we decided that I wasn’t going to play.

“Coming off a concussion injury like that, the symptoms were kind of going away, but I was still a little slowed down and didn’t feel like myself.”

In his place, senior Bart Houston completed 16 of 21 passes for 174 yards in a game that saw the Badgers blow a 28-7 lead, and lose 38-31. Though quarterback wasn’t the overriding issue, that didn’t make it any easier for Hornibrook to stand on the sideline unable to contribute.

“That was terrible to have to watch and not help your guys out,” Hornibrook said. “But it was a smart decision for me.”

Hornibrook returned to practice earlier this week when the Badgers held their developmental sessions with young players and said he’s 100-percent.

Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph told reporters that he could see Wisconsin using both Hornibrook and Houston like they did for the final five games of the season, though he wouldn’t disclose who would get the start against the Broncos on Jan. 2 in the bowl game.