- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave will make his first road start this weekend, against Nebraska at night on ABC.
But for Stave, that assignment doesn't seem as nerve-wracking as what he went through in April. At the Buckinghams, Wisconsin's annual award banquet for athletes, Stave performed a cover of Train's "Drops of Jupiter" before a packed house.
"I'd played piano before at a high school talent show," he told ESPN.com. "But I hadn't really sung in public a whole lot. That's what made me kind of nervous."
By comparison, Stave is relatively calm about taking on the Huskers in just his third collegiate game. He's already beaten some long odds to become the Badgers' starting quarterback.
Stave threw for 2,635 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior at Whitnall High School in Greenfield, Wis. Despite those numbers and his 6-foot-5 stature, his only scholarship offer came from Western Michigan.
"Kind of a typical story of a Wisconsin kid who was maybe a little bit under-recruited," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. "A lot of times we get kids who are under-recruited, undersized or under-developed. He definitely wasn't undersized, because he's a big, tall joker who can run it. He was probably just a little bit under-recruited."
The best Wisconsin could do was bring Stave in as a preferred walk-on, promising a scholarship after two years if he performed well. Stave was put on scholarship when one opened up this past spring.
He was the No. 1 quarterback after those spring drills, but it appeared temporary as the Badgers brought in Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien in the summer. Bielema said all along that there would be a competition and Stave was right in the mix, but hardly anybody thought O'Brien would sit. Many people weren't even sure how to properly pronounce Stave's last name (it's STAH-vee).
O'Brien did win the starting nod, but Stave came in for the second half of the Utah State game two weeks ago with Wisconsin trailing 14-3. Though he didn't do a whole lot in the passing game, he didn't make any mistakes and the Badgers rallied to win. Last week, Stave got the start against UTEP, and Wisconsin had its best offensive production of the season in a 37-26 win. Stave finished 12-of-17 for 210 yards and a touchdown, with one interception.
"There are things he can do better and improve upon," offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. "But I thought he managed the game and made some throws that we asked him to make. For his first time playing a whole game, I thought he did a good job."
Now Stave has to do it on the road, before a hostile crowd in a pressure-packed Big Ten opener. Nervous?
"I feel confident in the game plan we've put in so far," he said. "I've got to make sure to stay focused and block everything out and just play, try to get in a rhythm. If I can do that, I think everything will go well."
Bielema has praised Stave's understanding of the offensive system, and he's not a player who gets rattled too easily. Canada called Stave a "laid-back guy" who shows good leadership.
"He's one of those kids who's a very dynamic person who's very talented in many different areas," Bielema said. "He's kind of like what you love to see in a quarterback. He walks in a room and people know what he is and who he is. He's got a presence to him."
And he has music as an outlet. Stave has played the piano since he was a child and taught himself how to play the guitar a few years ago. He enjoys country music and will strum a few chords on his guitar before going to sleep most nights.
"I haven't played the piano in about a month," he said. "I'm going to have to find one to do that. There are a few in some buildings on campus, so I'll find one. It's a great way for me to relax."
One of Stave's favorite songs to play on the piano is "Oh, What a Night" by the Four Seasons. If he can deliver a great performance against Nebraska, Badgers fans might be singing that tune Saturday night.
2dDavid Ching and Edward Aschoff
3dESPN Stats & Information