CHICAGO - The profile and pedigree of quarterback Joel Stave is unique.
But, whether you like him or not, Stave is one great season away from etching his name on top of the UW history books. With a 21-7 record as a starting quarterback, he’s nine wins away from tying Bollinger as the winningest quarterback in school history. Get victory number 10, Stave would stand alone.
And with a regular season that doesn’t include conference powers Michigan State or Ohio State, it’s in the realm of possibility for a quarterback whose team is picked again to win the Big Ten West Division.
Not bad for a quarterback who is on his fourth offensive coordinator, third head coach and is constantly raked over the coals by a portion of the fan base.
“Obviously (30) is a number I’d like to reach,” said Stave. “I think that’s something that’s very obtainable with the guys we’ve got and the team we have in place. My goals coming in were just to get better every day, stay healthy and putting myself in position to be the best player I can be.
“My career here has been up and down, gone through a lot of change, but I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed my time here.”
Thirty-one wins isn’t a new goal for Stave. In truth it’s been there since he looked up the record his true freshman season when he was buried on the depth chart. He admitted that he became aware of all of UW’s passing records when he first started to get starts his 2012 redshirt freshman season, a touch of cockiness teams want from their leader.
“I knew if I were able to continue to play, I’d play a lot of games,” said Stave. “With playing a lot of games comes numbers and records. That was always in the back of my mind, but I never play for stats other than wins.”
With full backing of head coach Paul Chryst and the coaching staff, spring was an opportunity to work on things without worrying about being perfect. At one point Stave said he struggled with his head position on some of his drop backs. To try and remedy the issue, he started dropping straight back, emulating some of the quarterbacks of the 1980s.
“That’s not something that’s super realistic, but maybe on a quick three step from under center that’s something we can get into,” said Stave. “It’s fun to just work on something like that.”
Confidence is the other big addition to Stave’s game, something that at times has been missing from his repertoire during his five years in the program. It was certainly the case a season ago where Stave, who felt he won the starting job at the conclusion of fall camp, was bypassed in favor of dual-threat quarterback Tanner McEvoy.
That led to anger, throwing yips, a mental block and bizarre letters from fans, including one that suggested he try practicing with an opaque bag on his head.
“I know I can do it,” said Stave. “It’s just a matter of not worrying what other people were thinking. Once you stop worrying what other people are thinking and worry about yourself, realize at the end of the day it’s just the game, that’s when I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
He recovered to win back the starting job, lead Wisconsin to seven straight wins to reach the conference title game and rebounded from a poor showing against Ohio State in the conference title game and a bad first three quarters against Auburn to complete critical throws in the fourth quarter and overtime to halt the program’s bowl losing streak at four.
“I can take a lot from those last five games, minus one in the middle (Ohio State),” said Stave. “The stretch we had against Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, those were three tough teams and those were three big wins we got back-to-back-to-back to ultimately win us our division. Being able to go out and win close games and, as an offense, make plays down the stretch, we went out and won close games, which in years past had been a struggle. Being able to make those plays down the stretch gave us a lot of confidence.”
Wearing a smile throughout his media day session at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, Stave appeared to be a man at ease. For the first time in his career, Stave was entering a camp without having to go through a quarterback battle.
It’s allowed him an opportunity to try new things, work on perfecting new routes, reads and progressions and, with only taking one class in the fall, immerse himself in football.
“His mind is relaxed,” said junior tailback Corey Clement. “He’s a smart guy. He majors in civil engineering, so I am pretty sure he has a big workload under his belt already. When he comes out each day and works, I don’t need to say anything to him. I’ve seen him become a leader and a vital contributor to this offense. He’s being more vocal and more understanding with what needs to be done for this offense to excel at the highest peak.”
Stave said the goal for this upcoming season is simple – win as many games as they possibly can. If Wisconsin does that, Stave will leave as the greatest winner Wisconsin has ever had under center.
“We’ve got a lot of good players in place and I think we have a really good team in place,” said Stave. “We just have to continue to build on that, continue to build on the guys we have and put together the best team we can to win as many games as we can. I think we have a team that can win a lot of games, and I just want to put the team in position to win as many games as we can as a leader.”