Despite being UW's leading returning rusher, Stanley has long understood that he would be transfer Brian Calhoun's backup this year. And by the time Stanley received his first carry of the 2005 season, with one minute, 16 seconds left in the first half, Calhoun had already rushed 17 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
Stanley is one of Calhoun's biggest fans. The juniors were contemporaries in their prep days at Milwaukee area high schools and they cheered each other on enthusiastically while leading UW to a 56-42 win Saturday. Stanley, though, admitted he wanted a taste of the action earlier in the game.
"Can't lie. In the beginning of the game I was a little frustrated," Stanley said. "I wanted to contribute too. I waited and, you know, I knew that this was Brian's time to shine."
Stanley made the most of his only first-half carry.
With a first-and-10 at the BG 21, quarterback John Stocco handed Stanley the ball on a delay. Stanley read fullback Matt Bernstein's block behind the line of scrimmage and scooted through a hole to the right side of the line. He then smartly side-stepped to the right of receiver Brandon White, who had crashed down to seal a defender at the 17. Stanley's cut there froze cornerback Jelani Jordan at the 15 and rather than continue to his right, Stanley abruptly cut up field, leaving Jordan trailing the play.
Stanley's nifty 13-yard gain set up Calhoun's third touchdown and gave the Badgers a 35-28 lead.
Stanley's first carry Saturday impressed co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Brian White. In the second half, Stanley ran 13 times for 90 yards and a touchdown. His 103-yard day was his fifth career 100-yard performance.
"From his first carry, I felt he wasn't feeling his way into that football game," White said. "So I had a comfort level after one carry that, if this was going to be a 40-carry game for Brian, that I needed to spell him and I needed to keep him fresh. Book was fantastic. I couldn't have been happier with the way he performed."
For better or worse, Stanley has had to find his stride at a moment's notice often in the past year.
Last season, injuries to former tailback Anthony Davis put a spotlight on Stanley. He ran for 231 yards in non-conference play, including 135 at Arizona. But a turf toe injury flared up in game four and Stanley ran 51 times for just 119 yards, a 2.3 yards per carry average, the rest of the season.
Stanley looked like a new back in spring practices. He was healthy, faster and a more decisive runner.
Two weeks after the spring game, however, Stanley was arrested for his involvement in an altercation at the Mifflin Street Block Party. He faces four misdemeanor charges — two counts of battery and one count each of resisting an officer and disorderly conduct. A final pre-trail hearing is scheduled for Oct. 5 in Dane County Circuit Court.
"I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Stanley said. "Wish it never would have happened, but it's life. You learn from your mistakes."
Per the terms of UW's student-athlete discipline policy, Stanley was initially suspended indefinitely. An appeals committee amended his suspension to the first two practices of preseason camp.
Stanley called the events of the past year a "humbling" experience.
"I'm a strong person," he said. "I get it from my mom. She's a strong woman.
"I dealt with it how you're supposed to, any mishaps in your life. And I'm just focused and I continue just to think about the good things in my life and just putting it behind me."
The injury, he said, shook his confidence and he was not driven to work as hard as he had in the past. With his health restored, the offseason was a different story. He said he only added a little weight to his 5-foot-10, 215-pound frame, but he made significant gains in the weight room. He now bench presses at least 410 pounds and squats close to 600.
Stanley did not find his stride quite as quickly during fall camp as he had in the spring, but he did not feel that the suspension set him back. He bided his time taking part in drills with assistant strength and conditioning coach Brian Bott, and felt comfortable working into the practice routine when he returned.
"I remember when he sat down and talked to me and let me know, you know, that I am a good back and ‘You can help this team out,' and ‘They are going to need me,'" Stanley said.
Bott reminded Stanley about other recent Badgers who had lost a season to injury, including standouts wide receiver Lee Evans and defensive end Erasmus James. Though Stanley's injury was not nearly as severe as those that afflicted Evans and James, the message resonated.
"It just felt good to see him talk to me because those guys were great football players here and that's what I want to be," Stanley said.
White was pleased with Stanley's performance in camp.
"He was healthy all camp," he said. "He's a year smarter and a year older and a year stronger. I thought he had a fantastic camp from day one and he certainly carried that onto the field Saturday."
Stanley went into Saturday's game not knowing when he would step on the field or how often. So he concentrated on the game and periodically stretched on the sideline. When his number was called, his runs were crisp and determined.
"Just to be able to contribute and help this team out. This is the greatest feeling in the world because that's all I want to do is help this team win," Stanley said. "Overall it just, it feels good just to get off to a great start."
The best part of averaging 7.4 yards per carry in a season opener? Stanley was able to plant his foot and run without anxiety.
"It feels great to be healthy," he said. "Coming off last year with the turf toe I wasn't able to have that ability. Coming off a great year of conditioning and strengthening and working out with [strength and conditioning coach John Dettmann]. I think it really helped me just focusing this year, digging a little deeper and basically working harder."