MADISON — When Alex Hornibrook, a three-star recruit from Malvern Preparatory in West Chester, Pa., transferred to Wisconsin in January of 2015, he sat behind four-year starter Joel Stave and three-year backup Bart Houston, patiently waiting for his chance to see playing time for the historic Wisconsin football program.
Flash forward to November of 2016 and the redshirt freshman is preparing to start his ninth game of the season. While he has been splitting time on the field with Houston, #12 has held the starting role since he took over in Week 4.
“I think there’s still change in every single game,” Hornibrook said of his role on the team. “You don’t really know what the outcome is going to be. You don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s kind of what Coach Chryst talks. As a team, you don’t know what to expect every single Saturday. It’s always difference, so your role is going to change. The team’s role is going to change.”
Chryst has stressed his support of the two-quarterback rotation the Badgers have used in the past few games. While Hornibrook remains the starter and takes most reps, Houston has come in when needed to give the offense and extra boost.
“I think there’s a balance. They don’t have to carry the whole load, and they can be contributors.”
That being said, Hornibrook’s performance since taking over has set himself up to easily take over the starting role come next season. The 6-foot-4, 219 pound quarterback currently has a passer rating of 125.4, completing 100 of 171 throws for 1,214 yards and eight touchdowns to seven interceptions.
“This in-game experience has helped me be more aware of situations, and I can look back at some things I did earlier in the year. I feel like I wouldn’t make those same mistakes again,” Hornibrook said.
In the past three games, Hornibrook has logged no interceptions against opponents, a great improvement from the three interceptions he put up in Wisconsin’s 14-7 loss to Michigan.
In his redshirt season, Hornibrook look to four-year starter and Wisconsin’s all-time winningest quarterback, Joel Stave, for advice and support.
“He was a guy that was the same position as me, and he helped me out because he’s been around here for so long.”
This year, Hornibrook looks to junior tight end Troy Fumagalli for support and advice.
“Whether it’s in the weight room or some stuff like that, he’s a good guy to look up to.”
Hornibrook remains in a different position than most starting quarterbacks because every week he faces the possibility of being taken out for part of the game. In the Badgers 49-20 win where Hornibrook went seven of nine for 89 yards and one touchdown, Hornibrook did not play in the second quarter. While this adjustment can be difficult for both quarterbacks involved, Hornibrook does not feel he has to prove himself.
“I think for every quarterback, Bart included and myself, you want to be out there every single play, but when you’re not, it’s helpful to look at the defense sometimes, see it from a different perspective,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s as much proving myself, but definitely you want to do as well as you can, and you’re competing to make every single throw.”
Hornibrook uses his time on the sidelines to communicate with coaches on the headset, reading the schemes and assisting the offense from a new viewpoint.
Receivers do not feel the adjustments have affected the game too much. While one quarterback is right-handed and one left-handed, both are natural leaders in the huddle.
“In practice, we work with both of them, so it doesn’t matter who’s on the field. We’re accustomed to both of them,” junior wide receiver George Rushing said. “We just make it work, whoever coach puts out there. As a team, we just try to keep on pushing no matter who is in the game at whatever position.”
While Hornibrook may have finished his high school career with a record-breaking 3,356 passing yards and 38 touchdowns, this Saturday’s game may pose a different type of challenge for the young quarterback. Win, and the Badgers head to the Big Ten Championship. Lose, and the season may be finished for the 9-2 football program.
“Everyone’s kind of more intense at practice, and every week is like that, but there’s just a little something extra this week that’s driving people,” he said on the historic Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry.
Whether it’s starter Alex Hornibrook or the long-time backup Bart Houston, the Wisconsin offense will be prepared to make the adjustments needed within the huddle and in the scheme to get the win against rival Minnesota Gophers. And Hornibrook seems to have a pretty good idea on what has made this Badgers team so special this year.
“I’d say we’ve got a bunch of unselfish guys that are here to contribute in the team. No one cares about their own self, and their ego goes out the door. We come in every day to work.”