Joel Stave knows about being in pressure-filled situations.
Last April, the Badgers’ redshirt freshman took the stage in front of a large audience at the 2012 “Buckinghams,” a formal event that showcases student-athletes’ talents off the field and honors success academically and athletically.
Playing and singing a rousing rendition of Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” on the piano, Stave showed the cool and collectedness any student who was ever forced into taking piano lessons by their parents knows is necessary to succeed at a recital.
In fact, it’s that same confidence Stave has transitioned to the huddle that has impressed center Travis Frederick.
“He’s the same player no matter what the atmosphere or what the tension,” Frederick said. “If it’s third and long or first and ten or you’re losing by three or you need a touchdown, they just scored, he’s the same guy. He always just comes to the huddle, he’s very calm, he calls the play and goes and plays.”
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada has taken note as well.
“He’s been pretty steady to be honest,” Canada said. “He’s a guy that has some pretty good poise about him. If you want to play you got to be that guy.”
So maybe it comes as no surprise Stave has already eased his way into the starting role at quarterback for the Badgers. Replacing embattled redshirt junior Danny O’Brien in the second half against Utah State less than two weeks ago, Stave has been a sound game-manager under center so far for a Wisconsin team in desperate need of consistency on offense.
Stave is quick to point out he’s benefited from Frederick’s experience in the trenches, as the redshirt junior center helps point out blitz pickups and looks the quarterback doesn’t initially recognize.
“That helps out a ton, him making calls and stuff,” Stave said. “If it’s something that I’m not completely sure on, if he makes the call, I can trust in what he’s doing and once he makes it I can see what he’s thinking. He’s really smart, knows what he’s doing and I have a lot of faith in him.”
And although Badger fans may have found renewed faith in Stave in the starting role after his performance against UTEP – 12-of-17 for 210 yards passing and a touchdown – the golden-haired quarterback will face his first true test this Saturday night on the road at Nebraska.
But Stave gained experience last season traveling with the team and watching former UW quarterback Russell Wilson play in the tough environments of East Lansing, Mich., and Columbus, Ohio, in primetime matchups and how he kept composed under such straining conditions.
“That really helped, just seeing how Russell responded and stay[ed] composed,” Stave said. “Seeing him out there, it looks like a lot of fun. Obviously it doesn’t look easy with all the crowd noise and everything, but you just have to block that out and stay focused.”
One way Wisconsin prepares itself for road tests is by practicing with the Camp Randall speakers blaring crowd noise, deafening the players to stimulate hostile environments. The noise was already audible Tuesday, as the college football mecca echoed loud cheers and screams. Stave knows as a quarterback he’ll have to be louder and make an emphasis on communication.
Yet Stave has never played a game at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, where a fanbase packs the seats that finds football more a religion than a sport.
The last time Stave was the starting quarterback in a road game? Try 2010, as a high school senior in Wisconsin leading Whitnall High School in a playoff game against top-seeded Franklin High School.
“I wouldn’t guess it’s going to be as tough (to play at) as where we’re going this week, but it was really windy so it wasn’t an easy place to play,” Stave joked. “None of [the high school road games] were super tough. No place with 90,000 people right on top of you. I don’t know, Greendale was kind of tough to play.”
The looseness Stave exhibits is contagious. And while he appears eager and thrilled to have the chance to perform on national television, including a chance for a friend who lives in Florida to watch him, Stave attributes a part of his ability to block out nerve and anxiety to his performance under the spotlight as a musician.
“It does kind of make you try to block out everybody else and just focus on what you’re doing, regardless of if you’re playing football or if you’re singing in front of people because that’s obviously something that is not super comfortable for me,” Stave said. “I mean, I feel a lot more comfortable playing football than I do singing to a group.”
So the quarterback really feels more nervous about performing than he would, say, starting on the road in Nebraska?
“I’d say so,” Stave said.
Somebody mentions that there isn’t much of a chance of getting hit while playing the piano.
“That’s true,” Stave laughed. “But I mean, a voice crack or something in front of a lot of people would be pretty bad.”
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