MADISON - It is unusual for Wisconsin to sign two quarterbacks in one class, especially two three-star commits that took such starkly different paths to the program.
Austin Kafentzis – the No.53 ranked QB from Sandy (UT) Jordan – committed to Wisconsin’s former coaching staff in June 2013. Alex Hornibrook – ranked No.109 out of West Chester (PA) Malvern Prep – committed to Pittsburgh this past summer when Paul Chryst was the head coach.
Wisconsin has to look all the way back to the 2004 signing class to find a year when the Badgers’ inked multiple recruits, and even then the difference in skill set wasn’t probably as drastic as the record-breaking-option Kafentzis and the more pocking-passing-focused Hornibrook.
“Alex and Austin on tape have different strengths and weaknesses and I'm looking forward to that,” said Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst during his national signing day press conference. “That's the one thing that I'm probably looking most forward to is getting with our players and being able to spend time off the road and get with the quarterbacks.”
While the 6-4, 215-pound Hornibrook knew all about Chryst, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and the type of offense they were going to run, the 6-1, 200-pound Kafentzis had to learn quickly in order to make his decision.
“I asked Chryst, if he believed I was a quarterback, if he wanted me to play quarterback, and if he thought I could play quarterback,” Kafentzis said. “That was mostly the main questions I asked. I had two years under Coach Andersen’s belt of getting to know him and everything. It was a quick turnaround but I felt comfortable talking with him (Chryst), felt like we’ve been talking for a while and felt like we were close. He just gave off that vibe and feeling that this is the place that I needed and wanted to be.”
Hornibrook built that same recruiting relationship with Chryst for two years while being recruited by Pittsburgh. Despite the uncertainty about his future when Chryst left, he knew that his best advantage to further his education and playing career was at Wisconsin when the opportunity was presented to him.
“The last couple of weeks for my parents was pretty stressful but it wasn’t too bad; everything happened pretty quickly,” Hornibrook said. “There was really no chance to breathe and think about everything. They did a really good job of setting stuff up here and getting all the paperwork and stuff like that.”
It is hard to forge a new relationship in such a short amount of time, especially when the only contact is by phone. Because Kafentzis was going to enroll early, Chryst and Rudolph were unable to schedule an in-home visit for a prospect who finished his career with an impressive 218 touchdowns, leading to a little unfamiliarity on both sides.
“As soon as we came in here, we had a chance to sit down and watch some film with the current guys, and he’s a guy who stands out,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “He’s a competitor, he can run the football and pass the football. You just get a feel for his presence and his confidence that he has and you like that in a quarterback, and I’m excited about him.”
Kafentzis - a two time Gatorade Player of the Year as a sophomore (2012) and senior (2014) - and Hornibrook - a three-year team captain - both decided early in their recruitment that they would enroll early at their college of change. Wisconsin as that was a decision both quarterbacks made early in their recruitment. But it also didn’t give either a lot of time to make up their mind on what they were going to do because of the coaching turnover.
Florida showed interest in both quarterbacks, even extending an offer to Kafentzis, but because neither quarterback gave much interest because of the lack of communication during the dead period. Kafentzis knew he had to decide between sticking with Wisconsin or going to Oregon State, and Hornibrook was debating staying at Pitt or following Chryst to Madison.
Kafentzis did admit he wavered in his decision a little until he started doing research on Chryst and what he was able to do with Russell Wilson. He came away impressed and intrigued, referencing Chryst as an offensive guru and someone who has the ability to help him develop.
“Doing research helped a ton,” Kafentzis said. “Knowing what Chryst did with Russell Wilson and how explosive the offense was, what kind of numbers they put up throughout the whole year and it just wasn’t up and down; they were really consistent. They led a lot of categories. The output each game offensively was really good. I didn’t know much about Coach Chryst before, because I didn’t think I had to, but in the end … I figured out what I needed to figure out and I liked it a lot.”
It is big for both Kafentzis and Hornibrook to enroll early to get a jump on the playbook, spring practices and college life, and both Chryst and Rudolph said they are mature enough to make the transition from high school to college.
“It helps from every aspect,” Hornibrook said about enrolling early. “Athletics, academics, just knowing the campus, getting the playbook, the weight room, start throwing and getting a jump on classes, it helps a lot. You can ease into it opposed to trying to learn the offense all at once during fall camp.”
With both Kafentzis and Hornibrook cutting their high school careers short, Chryst wants to make sure it is worth the time for both being here.
“Both are excited to be here and both add value to our team,” Chryst said. “For Austin and Alex there is an advantage when we’re installing offense as they are hearing it for the first time. It is our job to make sure it is worth their time and they do gain value for being here.”
Hornibrook said he tries to model his game off of New England quarterback Tom Brady, an accurate passer who goes through his reads and takes what the defense gives him. Kafentzis can play multiple styles and accumulated a total of 20,021 yards of total offense in his high school career.
Even though the two have differences in their games, Rudolph believes they have similarities to help with the quarterback depth.
“Austin and Alex are different in good ways; they complement each other, they have different attributes, I can definitely help them and they can help us,” Rudolph said. “At the same time they share a commonality in that you would have confidence in them as leaders, as communicators, and I think that is a pretty good combination. I think there similarities enhance what you have in the depth and what I think what they can do in their differences can enhance what you can do in the depth.”