Football

With Hornibrook transfer, starting quarterback job up for grabs

With senior Alex Hornibrook on his way out of the program, sophomore Jack Coan and freshman Graham Mertz are set to compete for Wisconsin's starting job.

Image By: Bobby Burmeister

Wisconsin’s winningest quarterback in school history wants out.

Senior Alex Hornibrook, who served as the Badgers’ starting quarterback the past three years, announced that he is leaving the team and intends to transfer, according to an announcement from head coach Paul Chryst Wednesday afternoon. As a graduate transfer, Hornibrook will be able to play for another school right away.

Hornibrook’s decision to transfer comes at the heels of a disappointing 2018 season, where he failed to build upon a promising 2017 campaign.

After leading the Badgers to a school-best 13-1 record in 2017 and rifling off 258 passing yards and four touchdowns in UW’s Orange Bowl victory over Miami, the much-maligned signal caller regressed in 2018. 

Two inept performances against Michigan and Minnesota, where he combined to throw five interceptions, serve as a microcosm of his inability to string together quality performances, with his fourth quarter comeback at Iowa being a rare highlight. Compounding off his struggles on the field, Hornibrook suffered concussion symptoms sporadically all season, forcing him to miss four games.

Still, Hornibrook’s career .813 winning percentage is the best of any quarterback in school history. Hornibrook went 26-6 as a starter for the Badgers.

“Alex informed us of his decision to leave the team earlier today,” Chryst said in a statement. “He contributed to a lot of our recent success and we want to thank him for all he did for our program. We wish him the best of luck.”

Hornibrook’s decision to leave the program cuts a crowded starting quarterback battle to two.

Fans will be intrigued at the thought of starting freshman Graham Mertz, the highly touted four-star recruit. A Mission, Kansas native, Mertz was the No. 3 ranked pro-style quarterback in the class of 2019, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Mertz capped off his high school career by winning the Gatorade Kansas player of the year award while throwing for a state-record 51 touchdown passes. If that wasn’t enough, Mertz further dazzled fans in the All-American Bowl, where he claimed the MVP and threw for a bowl-record five touchdown passes.

Sophomore Jack Coan, who started four games in place of an injured Hornibrook for the Badgers in 2017, is Mertz’s biggest competition to start at quarterback in 2019. Coan, who travelled to Madison after setting Suffolk County records in Sayville, New York, showed flashes of his potential in his limited on-field experience.

Coan struggled in his first two career starts, losses to Northwestern and Penn State, respectively. However, Coan reached his summit during a 44-43 triple overtime win at Purdue. Coan led the Badgers to a 14 point comeback late in the fourth quarter, throwing two touchdown passes to Danny Davis. Coan had little to do in Wisconsin's 35-3 Pinstripe Bowl win over Miami, going 6/11 for just 73 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

The Badgers are set to start spring practice on March 26, now with a head-to-head clash for starting quarterback. Mertz enrolled in classes early, meaning he is already on campus and ready to participate in spring practices a semester earlier than most freshman.

The starting quarterback decision likely revolves around Mertz’s readiness to come in and start right away, and UW’s willingness to hand a true freshman the most important role on the field.

To understand the risk of handing a true freshman the reigns, look no further than Artur Sitkowski, another highly touted recruit who struggled mightily for Rutgers, throwing four touchdowns and 18 interceptions. However, many will be quick to point to Trevor Lawrence, whose impeccable right arm guided Clemson to a national championship.

Mertz represents perhaps the most exciting prospect to ever join the Badgers. However, Coan has a year more experience and has shown glimpses of playing at a high level. That’s not a terrible dilemma to have. 

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Cardinal.