It would have intriguing chapters on losing a starting job he rightful won, a perplexing mental block that prevented him from delivering a spiral and always seeming to have a different voice telling him how to reach his potential. And that’s just in the past 12 months.
With that thought in mind, it’s hard to find anybody more anxious to start a season than the quarterback from Greenfield, Wis.
“This year is a lot more fun going into this week knowing that I’ll be playing on Saturday,” said Stave, a grin starting to emerge on his face, “and that we have a great opportunity against a great team.”
Stave has never been one to seek the limelight, although he has seemingly always been under the microscope and in the spotlight during his Wisconsin career. Before this season, every spring and fall camp he’s been involved in a quarterback battle, getting dissected by the coaching staff and the media with every throw he’s attempted.
He’s battled through very public injury cases, both of the physical and the mental side, yet he’s won 21 of his 28 starts and is 10 wins away from breaking Brooks Bollinger’s school record for wins by a quarterback.
But when he’s asked about what he feel his legacy will be after he graduates this season, or what statement he feel he can make if he leads No.20 Wisconsin over No.3 Alabama at AT&T Stadium down the road in Arlington tomorrow night, Stave won’t subscribe to any individual theories.
“I just want to have as much fun as I can this year and win as many games as we possibly can as a team,” he said. “How the season ends or how I get remembered is not a big concern for me … Football is a team game. I’m just concerned about helping the team as much as I can (on Saturday).”
Of all the stories he’s been involved in his career, the one that played out at the conclusion of the 2014 fall camp was the most bizarre. After appearing to clearly win the starting job over Tanner McEvoy, an opinion shared by virtually every major media outlet who covered fall camp, Stave said his emotions were a combination of surprise and anger when he was told by former offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig that the Badgers were going to go with McEvoy because of his dual-threat capabilities.
That led to a mental struggle, not to mentioned a botch cover up by head coach Gary Andersen, to consistently throw the football that lasted more than a month into the season.
“I knew I still could do it,” said Stave. “I would go in on Sundays, grab a couple football and just throw at the little dummies on the wall, and I’m hitting them every time. I know I could do it. It’s just a matter of not worrying about what other people are thinking. Once you worry about yourself and realize that at the end of the day it’s just a game, that’s when I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
There was no such drama this season. Right at the start of spring camp, Chryst named Stave – who replaced McEvoy and started the final nine games of the season (8-1) - the team’s starter, a decision that was a clear to the head coach as black or white.
“You name your starters when you know who is going to start,” Chryst said. “Unless something happened different, Joel was going to be our starter. I think he's earned the right … He's played a lot of games and he's played a lot of big games.
“I think he's grown through all those (games), and it's well documented, his experiences, positive and the struggles he's gone through. And yet I think I've been impressed with how he's going to come out the other end of it. I think he gives our team the best chance to win. I like the way that he's approached spring ball in the summer and fall camp, and he's doing everything he can to work each day … I think he's got more than enough talent to be a really good quarterback.”
The results since that initial announcement have been noticeable. Able to work in a stress-free, judge-less environment, Stave pushed his limits as a passer without having to look over his shoulder. The result was causing his overall demeanor to change, something the defenders that go against him every day in practice could quickly pick up on.
“He’s become more comfortable, he’s making better decisions and making quicker decisions,” said safety Michael Caputo, a fellow fifth-year senior. “From the spring, into the summer working with him and into the fall, you can see his improvement because he’s harder to prepare against. He has more confidence in his receivers and everyone has more confidence in him.”
Other than Stave, senior receiver Alex Erickson and possibly tailback Corey Clement, there are few sure things on Wisconsin’s offense. Tailback Melvin Gordon is gone and so are three offensive line starters, a quartet who had a hand in the Badgers rushing for 4,482 rushing yards and averaging 6.9 yards per carry. UW was so reliant on the run that the Badgers ran 648 run plays to only 322 pass attempts, averaging 148.7 yards in the air (one of the worst marks in the country).
But now it’s a totally different offense under a brand new offensive staff, running a scheme that Stave feels he’s most comfortable in.
“Obviously things are going to change, not having him (Gordon) in the backfield, but I think Corey is a good player in his own right,” said Stave. “I think we have good players up front and that we can be a bit more balanced with our pass game.”
In order to do that, Stave will have to rely on Clement, a group of high-potential receivers and a patchwork offensive line (a group practicing together less than a week) to stop a Crimson Tide front seven lauded as one of the best in the country.
That means a lot of the pressure will fall on him to convert on third downs, take advantage of red zone opportunities and limit the miscues. After never thinking a bowl win over Auburn would be as sweet and gratifying as it turned out to be, a win over a perennial power with national title dreams in 2015 would be the ultimate.
“That would be big for the program,” said Stave. “Obviously this is a very good team that we’re going to play. They’ve got a lot of history, but I think we’ve got a good team, too. I think we’re very competitive; I think we have a good group of guys; and I think we’ll be very well coached and prepared. We’ve just got to make sure we get ourselves a chance.”
Whether that happens will rest on the shoulder of No.2.