Looking back on Alex Hornibrook’s early games, not everyone was confident he’d grow into the reliable quarterback he is today.
I was sitting in the stands with my family when the Badgers took on Georgia State in September of last year. Hornibrook began warming up behind the team on the sidelines. His throws were accurate, but his motion stood out like a Gopher fan at Camp Randall. My dad, who was sitting beside me, commented immediately, “looks like it’s his first time throwing a football,” he said sarcastically. I could tell what he meant. His release was irregularly low, with the ball leaving his hand nearly at his ear. I, like my dad, was skeptical.
Hornibrook would shut the both of us up that day, completing 5/5 including a TD. From then on, I was intrigued to see how he’d fare against the premier teams of The Big Ten. Against Michigan State my confidence grew in his playmaking ability, as he had another solid day. However, in the back of my mind I knew our offense was about the rush game and deep bombs were not our greatest weapon, especially after losses to premier defenses in Michigan and Ohio State. Instead, it was gritty, grind it out victories that epitomized the Badgers and Big Ten football. Hornibrook was named the starter after the team rebounded to six straight victories following the Ohio State loss. But I still didn’t feel like Hornibrook was the centerpiece of our success. Typically when a team is succeeding the quarterback is the first name to jump out at the team’s mention. With the Badgers, however, I felt like more people were talking about Ogunbowale and Clement, or our elite defensive squad. Hornibrook almost felt like just another position player, rather than the one in the driver’s seat for the offense.
At the end of the season, I felt more or less the same way. Hornibrook had improved, but I wasn’t sold on him being the quarterback of the future for us. That was until I stepped onto the Badger’s practice field to see how Hornibrook was revered by his teammates. Any question that included the name “Alex” was met with a glowing response filled with the utmost confidence. Defensive backs said they were being challenged during scrimmages to defend his throws, wide receivers would gush about how privileged they were to work with such a gifted QB, and most of all, coaches were entirely consistent in the message that Alex had proven himself in all aspects including ability, work ethic and leadership qualities. He’d even taken his spring break, a time where most students make regrettable decisions, to work out with quarterback specialist and trainer George Whitfield Jr. At this point I was sure Hornibrook was our man, but he still had more to prove.
His decision making was still shaky, as he’d consistently throw some ill-advised passes during drills and games in his Freshman year. He still needed to commit time to throwing the ball downfield, as dump-off passes and bubble screens only take your offense so far. However, if there was ever an ideal time for Hornibrook to make the leap, it’s now. He’s shown his prowess as an effective QB, and the Badgers have proven they can win with him, but I’d rather see them win at his hand. I want analysts to point to him as the reason for the team’s success, and I think this is the year it happens. He has arguably a more versatile offense behind him than last year with Pitt RB transfer Chris James standing out in practice, and Fumagalli a more polished weapon. Not to mention there is a young core of receivers to help out senior Jazz Peavy.
As I walked out of the first day of Spring Practice, I turned around to watch Hornibrook throw one last time after most players had left. I stood directly behind him and got a perfect silhouette of his throwing motion. The ball flew almost effortlessly out of his hand which came directly overhead, well above his ear.