The University of Wisconsin spring football game gave fans the briefest glimpse into what they could expect during the 2017 season.
Returning players were joined by this year’s signing class on the field for a 40-minute warm-up period where the team ran different drills around the field. The Badgers relied primarily on Alex Hornibrook as their quarterback for warm-ups.
Between players who graduate in 2017 and those who left to try their chances in the 2017 NFL draft, there were a few holes to fill on this team, especially on the defense side of things. The Badgers newly hired defensive coordinator Brian Leonhard knew he was walking into a team that needed leadership. He has expected to see his players step into the roles that needed to be filled.
There were some key players missing on the offense side as well, but thankfully, one key player remained from last year. After a stellar season-long performance, Alex Hornibrook once again stepped in as starting quarterback for the Badgers, helping to give this team some sense of familiarity.
Another returning player, who might not have been in uniform on the field but was present on the sidelines, was inside linebacker Chris Orr. After a season of coaching and watching the game from the sidelines, Orr told a sideline reporter he was anxious to get back onto the field next season, and he didn’t want to put on a headset again until he was 42.
After the team’s warm-up period, they headed to the locker room for a quick break. The next time they would step onto the field, it would be time to give the fans a look at what was to come in the fall.
Red and white took the field for a 60-minute scrimmage, and Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst decided to allow the two back-up quarterbacks, Jack Coan and Kare Lyles, a chance to run the offense. Hornibrook was on the side, giving advice between the plays and helping his teammates read the calls from the bench.
For Hornibrook, this year brought a new challenge for him: be the veteran in a group of inexperienced players. The sophomore quarterback found himself in a position he was not used to, Hornibrook said, but so far he has enjoyed the role.
“It’s a little different,” Hornibrook said. “I’ve always been the youngest guy, I’ve [always] had people older than me. To be the room with quarterbacks, to be the oldest guy, it’s a little different, but I’m embracing the role and it’s been fun.”
It was the defense that really stood out, with White managing to hold their own through much of the game. It was clear the gaps were filled and this was a top 10 defense that came to play.
The offense, on the other hand, struggled for a few moments before finding their footing. A few plays resulted in yards lost, and both Coan and Lyles were sacked during their first time on the field. Yet, Cardinal still managed to get points on the board, even grabbing a few 20 plus yard passes.
Running back Sam Brodner was taken off the field after a collision at the end zone with one of the offense. Brodner’s knee buckled after an attempt at a run, and he spent some time on the bench with one of the UW athletic trainers.
While White got off to a slow start, eventually the defense really got into the swing of things and dominated the game. A late game interception from Caesar Williams helped White pull away from Cardinal with six points added to their score.
Even though Cardinal managed to rally back at the end, the battle was eventually won by White with a final score of 20-19. Chryst said his team’s priority now is to rest and to handle their school work. He expects them to come back ready to fight in the summer.
“I thought that it was a really good spring for this team,” Chryst said. “What makes it a good spring is if each individual can get better, and I thought that we had a lot of guys do that.”
“This team is starting to find itself, whether it be leadership, new roles that guys have taken on [and so on],” he added. “I think it was a good second phase of getting ready for the season.”