Wisconsin Recruiting Grades - Quarterbacks

Signing a top 35 recruiting class, Wisconsin added plenty of talented prospects to its program, but just how good were they at each position? BadgerNation hands out the grades for each position in the 2015 signing class, starting with the quarterbacks.

Quarterback: Austin Kafentzis (three stars, No.54 QB by Scout.com), Alex Hornibrook (three stars, No.109 QB).

One position Wisconsin has struggled to recruit and attract top talent has been at quarterback but it seems like the position is starting to take a turn with the last three signings in the 2014 and 2015 class.

When former head coach Gary Andersen decided to leave Wisconsin for Oregon State, fans were worried that Kafentzis would follow him to Corvallis. But in the end the talented Kafentzis from Sandy (UT) Jordan High School stayed true to his word. Despite taking a visit to Oregon State on December 12, he reaffirmed his commitment to new head coach Paul Chryst on December 23. Chryst deserves plenty of credit for hanging on to Kafentzis, as he was able to explain that his style of play would fit in well with his offense.

“I went out to Oregon State on a Friday and came back on a Saturday because I had a high school dance,” Kafetnzis said. “I basically did a 24 hour tour around the whole campus but it was a quick turnaround, everything was so fast and it was hard to take it all in.”

Chryst has done well of developing the quarterback position throughout his coaching career at Wisconsin and Pittsburgh, notably Scott Tolzien and Russell Wilson at Wisconsin and Tom Savage at Pittsburgh, as all three are currently on NFL rosters. But Chryst does have his misses at the quarterback position while he was the coach at Wisconsin.

Since the 2006 signing of Tolzien, every scholarship quarterback has either left the program early (James Stallons and Joe Brennan), left due to injuries (Jon Budmayr) or had injuries affect his career (Curt Phillips). Chryst can’t control the injuries that occurred to Budmayr or Phillips but both had opportunities to win the starting quarterback jobs and couldn’t because of their stunted development.

It appears that Kafentzis – the first commit of the recruiting class - has the right make up to succeed under Chryst. While he may not have ideal height (6-0), he destroyed the Utah high school record book. Kafentzis threw for 20 touchdowns to 19 interceptions his junior year but improved those numbers to 39 touchdowns to 14 interceptions, while completing 222-of-394 for 3,865 yards, as a senior. He was just as explosive running the ball with 273 carries for 1,842 yards and 25 touchdowns. Kafentzis finished his career with 113 passing touchdowns and 100 rushing touchdowns, the only player in any state, ever, to hit the century mark twice. Throughout his four-year career, Kafentzis set 12 career Utah records; including total offense (20,021) and touchdowns responsible for (218) and three single-game records.

Kafentzis shows good awareness in the pocket and can sense when the pressure is coming. With his athletic ability, he is capable of escaping and picking up positive yards out of a play. Even on plays in which he rolls out, he is comfortable that he’ll be able to create something positive. Being a record javelin thrower, Kafentzis demonstrates good arm strength to help him make the throws that he’ll need to be able to make at Wisconsin.

Despite Kafentzis’ ability to scramble, he’ll have to learn when to run and when to throw the football away. At times he is willing to put his body in harm’s way, which is great to see that competitive drive by him, but can cause serious injury at the college level if he doesn’t slide (see Joel Stave). The other thing Kafentzis has demonstrated is when he is on the run and attempts a pass his feet aren’t always set, which can cause an inaccurate pass. But working with Chryst, Kafentzis has the tools to become a successful quarterback and should have a chance at winning the spot going into his second year at Wisconsin.

While it appeared Wisconsin was done at the quarterback position, Chryst had other idea when he targeted Hornibrook – the former Pittsburgh commit. Hornibrook decided to follow Chryst to Madison and gave his verbal commitment on Jan.12, the Badgers first Pennsylvania quarterback commit since 2004 signee Bryan Savage. Like Kafentzis, Hornibrook is already enrolled early.

The 6-4 Hornibrook is the more traditional Wisconsin quarterback. A pocket passer, Hornibrook, like Kafentzis, shows a good arm. Although he doesn’t have the ability to beat teams with his legs, Hornibrook has shown the ability to avoid pass rushers while in the pocket. Even if he can’t consistently pick up positive yards with his feet, he is willing to stand tall in the pocket and take a hit to get a pass off, which is good to see. One area where Hornibrook does need to work on is his passing mechanics. At times Hornibrook delivers the pass with a side arm delivery and doesn’t always get his feet set when delivering a pass while avoiding the rush, which hurts the delivery of the football. But because he is an accurate passer, he can find ways of getting the football into his intended target.

Chryst has shown he can design an offense around either style of quarterback. Kafentzis and Hornibrook will have to compete with 2014 quarterback signing D.J. Gillins for the starting spot going forward, but those three have given Wisconsin fans hope that the quarterback position is finally heading in the right direction.

In terms of playing time, the question is do you redshirt both this coming season or does it make more sense to space out the years between the two. Assuming Stave wins the starting quarterback job, it will likely mean that Bart Houston and Gillins will be his backups for 2015, as it’s assumed Tanner McEvoy will transition to another position on the field. I think in the end both Hornibrook and Kafentzis end up redshirting as they add more strength to their frames and can continue to learn the playbook.

Signing Day Grade: A

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