Nine days removed from the William Gholston hit that knocked him out for the season, former Wisconsin starting quarterback Joel Stave entered the McClain Center Media Room Sunday with his left arm resting in a black sling.
After breaking his collarbone less than 10 seconds into the second half of an eventual 16-13 overtime loss for the Badgers to Michigan State Oct. 27, Stave said he was all but sure his collarbone was broken immediately following the hit from the Spartans’ 6-foot-7 defensive end.
“Right when I got tackled I could kind of hear it and I was able to touch it and feel a bit of a lump there, so I assumed it was a break,” Stave said Monday, the first time he has spoken publicly since the injury. “Then after the doctors came out there, that’s what they said.”
“[Gholston] picked me up and drove me, and he’s a really, really big, strong guy and with the way I landed on it, it was going to happen.”
The disappointment evident in his voice as he replayed the sack, Stave said as he headed into the locker room he looked into the stands and saw his mother tearing up. It was at that point — exiting after what may have been his best half as the Badgers’ starting quarterback this season — that his eyes also welled up with tears.
Before he left the game and handed over the reigns of the offense to redshirt junior Danny O’Brien, Stave completed nine of his 11 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown.
“I felt like as an offense we were playing well, we were moving the ball, we were converting some third downs which we hadn’t done as well in previous games,” Stave said. “I was happy with how things were going.”
Despite the frustration of leaving the game, head coach Bret Bielema said that, although difficult, it was a defining moment for the young signal-caller.
“I learned a lot about him during that moment of the game,” Bielema said at his weekly press conference Monday. “He was very upset emotionally. I think it physically hurt him but he also had tears of emotion. … I knew how much it meant to him for him not to be out there and I think it’s good for our players to see that as well.”
Bielema also said he has been forced to keep an eye on Stave during practice, as the redshirt freshman has had a difficult time completely separating himself from the action despite the severe limitations imposed by the injury.
Though he will miss the remainder of the regular season, Bielema said last week there is a slight chance Stave could return for a bowl game. The Greenfield native said he will keep his arm in a sling for the next several weeks and planned to get another x-ray of his collarbone Monday to see how it was healing.
“If I could, I would really like to [play],” Stave said of making a return in the postseason. “I don’t want to do anything stupid and press it and try and get back before I’m ready, just set myself back again. I trust what the doctors tell me, and I know my body and when I’m feeling good.”
Stave will not travel to Bloomington, Ind., this weekend with the rest of his teammates. For the first time since arriving at UW in 2011, he will — like most fans — watch the game on television alongside other teammates who are staying back in Madison.
“It’s going to be really different,” he said.
Now relegated to the sidelines, Bielema said the redshirt freshman can continue to develop as a quarterback even without stepping onto the playing field before the spring. While he won’t be able to prove his growth as a passer through games, Stave hopes the game will continue to slow down for him as he looks on from a sofa instead of the sideline bench.
“He literally can’t do anything for the next eight weeks, but he can definitely get better,” Bielema said. “He’s got to process the game. … He’ll be able to work all this week during the practices, see how the gameplan comes together, because he hasn’t been a starter against Indiana. But hopefully he will be in the future.”
As tough as breaking his collarbone in a critical Big Ten game was for Stave to swallow, he said he will still reflect on his first year as a UW starter with positive memories.
“It was a really good opportunity for me to get to play and I learned so much in the six games I got to start and the half I got to play against Utah State also,” he said. “Just learned more every game and really enjoyed every opportunity.”
Five weeks after his first game as a starter against UTEP, the former walk-on may have to again battle his way to the starting spot come March.
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