Stave A Cool Customer

Becoming the first freshman quarterback to start for Wisconsin in almost 12 years, Joel Stave's solid performance under center helped the Badgers put up their highest point total of the year in a win over UTEP.

MADISON - As he stood outside the winning Wisconsin locker room, redshirt freshman Joel Stave scratched his long, curly blond hair and couldn't give a definitive answer to the question: ‘When was the last time you were rattled?'

It certainly didn't happen Saturday in an environment that would certainly warrant at least a couple of nerves or jitters.

In his first career start, Stave – a redshirt freshman from Greenfield, Wis. – looked like a season veteran, completing 12 of 17 passes for 210 yards and one score, becoming the seventh quarterback in school history to throw for over 200 yards in his first start.

Being the first freshman to start at quarterback for Wisconsin since Jim Sorgi on Oct. 21, 2000, Stave finished with a pass efficiency rating of 182.0, the fifth-best mark in a starting debut by a Wisconsin quarterback.

"He sounded confident," said tailback Melvin Gordon. "He said his plays and he went out there and made plays."

What some consider pressure environments Stave approaches it like another day. Heading to a team function at the former chancellor Biddy Martin's house to celebrate the school's conference championship, Martin asked if any of the players knew how to play the piano sitting in the room.

Stave, or ‘Steve' as his teammates used to call him, was signaled out despite being on campus for only three days. He responded by playing Elton John's Rocket Man and opening the floor to requests.

"Everybody is looking around like, ‘Who is this guy,'" UW coach Bret Bielema said. "It was amazing."

There's more to Stave than meets the eye. He was a 4.0 student at Whitnall High School who graduated early to take part in spring practices last season. He can play harmonica and taught himself off to play the guitar. He also can play a little bit of quarterback.

"He's just a cool customer," said junior Chris Borland. "He doesn't flinch. He's calm. He did a great job … All week he was just composed and he's been that way since day one."

Stave travelled to every game last year, allowing him to get big-game experience, and got a ton of repetitions this past spring when only he and former quarterback Joe Brennan were the only healthy QBs on the roster.

Those two things have allowed Stave transition quickly after succeeding in a spread offense throughout high school, and allow him to shake off mistakes when they happen.

After being told he would be the starting quarterback earlier in the week, he shook off a bad practice Wednesday, knowing that he was still going to get an opportunity.

Throwing a telegraphed interception late in the second quarter that gave UTEP good field position to convert a late field goal, Stave led Wisconsin to touchdowns on two of its next four drives, including one that occurred right after UTEP cut the lead to 23-19.

"He's going to be a good quarterback," said Bielema. "He's tall, athletic, he's smart at the line of scrimmage, he doesn't hide things. When he comes over to the sideline he tells you the truth what he really sees, and as a coach you can make that better."

Added Stave: "I did my part to get us down the field, but I thought everyone did a great job sticking together after a big momentum swing in their favor. I think everyone did a great job responding."

Stave accounted for 5,017 passing yards as a two-year starter for Whitnall with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 40-to-8. As a high school senior, Stave threw for 2,635 yards and 22 touchdowns, throwing for over 250 yards in six games.

Despite the big numbers, it didn't add up to much recruiting traffic, as Stave only received a scholarship offer from Western Michigan.

In a way, Stave's recruitment can be loosely compared to former quarterback Scott Tolzien. Tolzien was not highly recruited out of Rolling Meadow, Ill., but had his heart set of playing for Wisconsin. Tolzien waited patiently for other targets Wisconsin was recruiting to make his decision, a choice that turned nerve wracking when other schools got commits and pulled its scholarship.

Tolzien wasn't offered until a week before signing day and left UW with a career record of 21-5 as a starter.

"I admire the way (Stave) comes out and plays the game," junior center Travis Frederick said. "He fits in with Scott Tolzien. Tolzien just came out and played the game. I think Joel does that. He comes out, doesn't make a big hoopla, doesn't try to pump us up ... he comes out with confidence, calls the play and get the play done. He does that every single time."

If he gets his way, he'll get a chance to do it against next weekend when Wisconsin heads to Lincoln to take on No.25 Nebraska.

"I hope so," said Stave. "That would be a mean a lot. Obviously I care a lot about this team and I want to be the quarterback for this team. To get that opportunity against Nebraska in our first Big Ten game would be really fun."

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