MADISON – When summoned into head coach Paul Chryst’s office Thursday morning and given the news he had been dreading, redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook couldn’t say he was surprised.
Chryst told Hornibrook what he announced later that afternoon, that fifth-year senior Bart Houston would be the starter for the September 3 season opener vs. No.5 LSU at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field.
He respected it, but he didn’t have to like it.
“I definitely feel like I have what it takes to get the job,” Hornibrook said. “I am not disappointed in myself. I respect what Coach says. He obviously knows more than me, and has been around the game longer than I have. If he things it’s the best decision to start Bart for LSU, I’m all for it.”
Houston, who has appeared in 15 games for Wisconsin, was viewed by many as the favorite to succeed quarterback Joel Stave, who won a school-record 31 games during his career. Houston was his backup a year ago, completing 27 of 47 passes (57.4 percent) for 281 yards and three touchdowns. The numbers are modest but represent the only live action of the four UW quarterbacks on the roster.
Even so Houston didn’t run away with the job, as Hornibrook’s accuracy and steady demeanor made the race nearly too close to call when camp concluded on Tuesday.
“Bart does have a little but more college experience, and that’s part of what makes up Bart,” Chryst said. “Alex has different things that make him up … You go into (the season) confident that you have two guys who can do it, and that was our number one job this fall was to make sure we have two quarterbacks that can not only play, but to play and win. I think we’ve done that.
“I don’t want Bart looking over his shoulder, yet I do feel good Alex has done enough work to where I think he’s truly more ready now than he was before fall camp.”
By all accounts Hornibrook is well ahead of the curve. He enrolled at Wisconsin in January 2015 and quickly earned himself significant reps in spring practice. He redshirted last season but still traveled with the team to all road games, picking up traits that helped him hit the ground running this past spring and fall.
Over the past few months, Hornibrook said quickening his release, progression through his reads and avoiding “sacks” in practice have all improved.
“I think it was great for both of us to compete like that,” Hornibrook said. “It’s one thing to just walk in and get the position, but another thing to have to compete. Having that added pressure every day, I think that was really good.”
Chryst said Hornibrook will continue to get practice reps throughout the season, a deviation from last year when he and Houston got few chances with Stave taking most of the reps. That was due in part to a young group surrounding the quarterback. That’s not necessarily the case this season with starters returning at every position, including four on the offensive line.
Whether Hornibrook sees the field or not in meaningful games this season, he’ll be well prepared for another quarterback battle next season between presumed redshirt freshman Kare Lyles and incoming quarterback Jack Coan.
“I’m excited the way Alex has handled this situation, not being named the starter,” Chryst said. “Like any good competitor, he didn’t necessary agree with it … He’s channeling it toward working and you like that.”