MADISON - It’s only a few repetitions during 7-on-7 and team drills, but it’s a start for true freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who is finally starting to get his feet on the ground.
Following a hectic 11th hour in his recruiting process, changing his commitment from Pittsburgh to Wisconsin a week before he was set to enroll early, Hornibrook (6-4, 215 pounds) has been able to integrate into the quarterback room and is starting to make his way up the depth chart.
During Friday afternoon’s spring practices, the eighth of 15 for the University of Wisconsin this spring, Hornibrook went 2-for-3 during the first 7-on-7 session and hit the drill’s only touchdown pass – a lengthy throw to sophomore receiver George Rushing.
This comes two days after he went 4-for-4 during a 7-on-7 sequence with three of the completions going for at least 25 yards.
“He’s slinging that ball,” said senior wide receiver Alex Erickson. “He’s obviously put a lot of time in. Before spring ball, every time I walked by the indoor (practice facility) he was in there throwing routes and working on footwork. He has the right work ethic and it’s showing on the field.”
During team drills, Hornibrook showed a touch of veteran confidence. After the pocket broke down, resulting in a sack from multiple defenders, he came back on the next play with a solid completion over the middle to receiver Jazz Peavy.
Following Jesse Hayes’ interception during his second set of 7-on-7 drills, Hornibrook rebounded to finish out his set with strong throws and accurate reads.
“Once you make a mistake, you are up in the next drill and it’s completely different,” said Hornibrook. “There’s no time to think about everything you are doing wrong. If you are thinking about it, you’re too slow and behind.”
While it may seem a surprise that Hornibrook is the true freshman receiving the bulk of the reps over much heralded recruit Austin Kafentzis, the West Chester, PA, native comes from a very successful sports background. As a high school senior, Hornibrook won the 2014 Pennsylvania Mini Max Award from Maxwell Football Club after he completed 63 percent of his passes to finish with school records for yards (2,156) and touchdowns (26). He closed his career with a record 3,356 passing yards and 38 touchdowns.
He also has good bloodlines. His father, Jeff, played football at Temple and his great uncle, John, played football at Miami (Fla.). His uncle, Ben Davis, was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1995 Major League Baseball Draft.
While unseating starting senior quarterback Joel Stave is the longest of long shots, Hornibrook is only worried about making enough positive strides in order to head into the summer with some confidence.
“Coming in, I just wanted to get better every single day and earn as many reps as I could,” said Hornibrook. “To finally get those reps is definitely nice to see that it’s paying off. But right now it doesn’t mean nothing, because I’m trying to get more and keep progressing throughout the spring.”
Defense Gets the Turnovers
Dave Aranda has done a lot of positive things over his two seasons guiding Wisconsin’s defense but said he has done a terrible job in putting the Badgers in position to generate turnovers.
The Badgers finished in a tie for 92nd a season ago with only 17 forced turnovers and tied for 110th with six interceptions. UW was also 110th with a minus-9 turnover margin.
It’s a main reason why making plays on the ball is a priority focus during spring practice, and a reason why the unit was so celebratory with each of their three interceptions Friday.
In addition to Hayes’ interception, senior safety Michael Caputo tipped a Stave pass to fellow senior Tanner McEvoy for an interception to open 7-on-7 drills and later added his own interception following a clear miscommunication between Stave and a receiver.
Caputo – who had one interception last season – says the focus for generating more turnovers is all about having the right mentality on defense.
“It’s making sure we’re taking advantage of opportunities to get a turnover,” said Caputo. “If the ball is being carried loose, we need to strip it out. If the ball is up in the air for the DBs or the linebackers, we’ve got to catch it and not drop any interceptions. It’s a be-around-the-ball type of mentality.”
It wasn’t all hard work for Caputo, as he was seen running a crossing route during one-on-one drills and making a catch. He cautioned not to read too much into it.
“I was just messing around,” said Caputo. “If you saw the route, you’d know that it was awful.”
Rough Day for Quarterbacks
In addition to the three interceptions, there were a total of four fumbled quarterback-center exchanges and a handful of other snaps during team drills that appeared to alter the timing of the quarterback coming out from under center.
Extra Points: Wide receiver Rob Wheelwright left early after suffering a lower-body injury midway through practice. He pulled up while running a corner route during receiver drills and left the field soon after. With Wheelwright out, Reggie Love took most of the first-team reps opposite Alex Erickson … Redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal ran with a purpose Friday during team drills and is competing with Dare Ogunbowale for the backup job … Wisconsin returns to the practice field Sunday for practice number nine.