Badgers’ Hornibrook has sports in his DNA – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Madison â After the chaos of opening Christmas presents and those precious hours of peace when children are occupied with new toys, Jeff Hornibrook would find himself a little restless.
He had a full gym in his basement – treadmill, stationary bike, bench press, squat rack, leg press, dumbbells, leg press â the toys of a former college football offensive lineman. Heâd summon his boys and head downstairs.
âI think he called it, ‘The Christmas Lift Off,’ â said Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook, Jeffâs oldest son. âHe would bring me and my brother down there and weâd do maxing out on the bench and squat and stuff.â
Of course, we now know the benefit of this upbringing. Alex Hornibrook was encouraged to follow his interests, like music â he plays guitar â and high achievement in academics – he graduated from high school in three and a half years. But coming from a family like his, well, there was really never any doubt he would be an athlete. A good one.
Jeff played football at Temple. Dawn, his mom,Â played basketball at Division III Gettysburg College.
Dawnâs sister Megan, Alexâs aunt, earned 12 varsity letters in high school and played soccer and lacrosse at Rutgers. Megan is married to Ben Davis, Alexâs uncle, and he was the No. 2 pick in the 1995 Major League Baseball draft and played six years in the majors.
Alexâs great-uncle John Hornibrook played quarterback at the University of Miami (Fla.). His sister, Mackenzie Hornibrook, is a senior swimmer at Penn State. And his little brother, Jake, is an emerging star in football back home.
âWe just like to play sports I guess, itâs kind of what we do,â Alex said.
No one was forced to throw, jump or run. There were no pushy parents dragging unwilling athletes anywhere. There was no shrine in the house to glory days gone by.
There was just an example set and a lead followed.
âThere was never really any pressure,â said Mackenzie, the swimmer, âbut growing up, we were like, âoh mom and dad played in college. I want to play a sport in college.â That was our mentality.â
Jeff graduated from Temple in 1987 with a degree in civil engineering. Now a global account director at SAP, the software company, Jeff still starts every day lifting weights and encourages both of his sons to keep getting stronger by lifting.
He married the right partner.
âMy mom is actually pretty competitive,â Alex said. âAnd my sister. Weâre all pretty competitive but those two will want to win pretty bad.â
A knee surgery a few years ago prevented Dawn from continuing to run half marathons and other runs, but she never lost sight of the value of sports. When life got so busy with three kids, she quit her job and stayed home.
âFor a while I think she missed having her own job and being out there,â Mackenzie said. âShe was the glue for our family.
âShe would be up early getting us ready for school, making our lunches for the day. After school sheâd be in the car for hours, driving me to swim practice, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, basketball. And my bothers to basketball, football, baseball. She would joke all the time that she was a taxi service.
âShe always had dinner ready to go and laundry done for the next game. She wanted us to be involved and do what we wanted to do. We wouldnât be here without her.â
Mackenzie, the oldest of the three Hornibrook kids, has held her own when liftingÂ with her dad and brothers on those Christmas mornings.
âWhen we were younger, my sister was the one with all the muscles,â Alex said. âShe was the strong one. She was stronger than us.â
âMy daughter started getting stronger, so we stopped doing it,â Jeff said. âPound for pound, she would beat us all.â
At Penn State this year, Mackenzie swam season bests in the 50-freestyle (23.90 seconds), the 100 freestyle (51.95) and the 100 butterfly (56.04) at the Ohio State Invitational.
Alex has thrown for 1,243 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions for Wisconsin. A concussion at the end of the season sidelined him, but the redshirt freshman is preparing with the rest of the Badgers for the Cotton Bowl vs. Western Michigan on Monday.
JakeÂ is a 16-year-old sophomore at Malvern Prep in Pennsylvania and at 6 foot 4, 250 poundsÂ heâs already turning heads on the football field.
They all make uncle Ben proud. He played for the San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox. His first grand slam at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, when he played for San Diego, is still memorable.
âI donât really remember running around the bases, it was one of those things,â Davis said.
Now the color commentator for the Phillies on Comcast, he has four kids â Alexâs cousins âÂ who are all good athletes already.
âPeople say the apple doesnât fall far from the tree, but I say no, they get that from their mother,â Davis said. âShe played two Division I sports. I was just a baseball player; my wifeâs a real athlete.â
People still remember John Hornibrook, who was a high school star in Ridley Township, near where Alex grew up in West Chester, Pa.,Â just outside of Philadelphia. It has evolved from a little farming community it was years ago. Farms sold off, development came in and one high school became three. Youth sports programs came with the growth. A lot of families do well financially, so their children are on travel teams and work year round perfecting their hobbies.
âMe and my brothers have really benefited from that,â Mackenzie said. âThat environment definitely shaped us and made us better.â
If the town sounds familiar to Badgers fans, it’s because former basketball coach Bo Ryan is from nearby Chester, Pa. In fact, Ryan coached Jeffâs brother, George Hornibrook, in high school basketball, where GeorgeÂ was the leading scorer.
Alexâs family moved back to West Chester in 2005 after they lived in Texas for nearly six years. By then, Alex was already a really good baseball and football player.
He played on flag football teams at the West Austin Youth Association as a lineman until one of the coachesâÂ kids threw an interception. Alex went in at quarterback and never played line again.
âAt that age you donât throw it a whole lot, you run, but at times he would let it go, it was just a perfect spiral and youâd think, ‘Man, the kid has a very nice arm,’ â Davis said.
Dad noticed, too. Other people would come to him at games and comment on how good Alex was.
âI usually ignored it,â Jeff said. âI was looking at, what does he need to work on, what does he need to improve. I take it day by day and how I can help him and support him and help grow.
âBut I did know he was accurate. Any object he was throwing was extremely accurate.â
A youth coach took a seat in the dunk tank and watched one boy after another throw, and miss. Fourth-grader Alexâs first shot was a missile, and hit bull’s-eye.
The Hornibrooks live on a cul-de-sac and when Alex was in sixth or seventh grade, he stood on the edge and launched a ball 40 feet and sent it through a basketball hoop.
Jeff set up a batting cage with a pitching mound at the bottom of the big hill in the back yard. There also was a pitching mound in the basement. Alex always worked on his great arm and fluid swing.
Otherwise, the Hornibrook and Davis houses were nondescript when it came to sports. No old jerseys on display, no baseballs mounted and cased, no newspaper articles in frames.
âThat was never really my parentsâ style,â Mackenzie said. âWhen you achieve something, we celebrated it, but then you just keep working towardÂ your next goal. They never put out newspaper clippings or trophies.â
Well, there is now finally a Wisconsin flag at the house, said Mackenzie.
But these days, hardly anyone ever stays there for long. Theyâre always traveling to see each other. Jeff and Dawn think nothing of driving to Ohio to see Mackenzieâs meet there, then over to Purdue to watch Alexâs game, and then back to Ohio for the final meet day.
âTheyâre troopers but I think they love it,â Mackenzie said.
Itâs out of love, and support, because there is no need to live vicariously through the kids.
âI know that a lot of kids experience pressure from their parents. We never had any of that growing up,â Mackenzie said. Â âTheir role was always to be supportive and to be our No. 1 fan always. They loved us because we were their kids, and not these athletes they were trying to create.â