By Pete Ruden
When it comes down to it, Nate Stanley was about as close as one can get to being the perfect quarterback for the Hawkeye football program.
He’s not a person who likes to talk about himself. Instead, he leads by example and lets his play do the talking and do the walking. He’s not arrogant about his abilities, even though he has most often played with guys who are older than him and has performed just as well.
A big, skilled athlete, Stanley developed by playing on the eighth-grade basketball team when he was in fifth, as well as starting on three high-school varsity teams as an underclassman.
But even after all of his success throughout his life, Stanley had a tall task in front of him heading into the 2017 football season.
The sophomore from Menomonie, Wisconsin, had to grow into his role as Iowa’s new starting quarterback to lead an inexperienced offense through the always-tough Big Ten.
Engulfed in a position battle all through spring and fall camps, Stanley played his game and impressed fans and media alike by thoroughly outplaying upperclassman Tyler Wiegers in open practices.
On Aug. 28, just five days before Iowa’s opener against Wyoming, it was official. Stanley would lead the Hawkeye offense as a true sophomore.
“Both Tyler and Nate have really competed well,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said a day after the announcement was made. “They’re both first-class guys. And again, we said it a week ago, we had confidence in both. We still do. They’re both really good players. It was a close call. Felt like we needed to make a decision and start moving forward with the football team.”
At Menomonie High, Stanley was an athlete unlike any other.
As a freshman, he was the punter and kicker on the football team, then became the starting varsity quarterback as a sophomore.
He also started on the basketball team in his first year, where he was the team’s No. 2 scorer. He added baseball as well, starting as a pitcher his freshman year.
After being rated a three-star football recruit by 247, Stanley committed to play for Iowa late in 2014.
He was sold on the hard work Ferentz preached, and even though home-state team Wisconsin pursued him, he stayed true to his word and signed to play for the Hawkeyes.
Still, he didn’t brag about all of his success. Instead of having a big ego, he put his head down and put the work in.
“He’s a very humble young man, he’s a great Christian young man. That’s just the way he was raised by his father,” Stanley’s high-school football coach Joe LaBuda said. “He wasn’t after the hoopla or the big-time recruiting. He felt very comfortable with Coach Ferentz.
“He knew their program was about hard work and about doing things right. He knew that Coach Ferentz was a big character guy, so I think that had a lot to do with his decision. That’s the kind of kid he is. He’s not going to let people outwork him.”
That mentality helped Stanley compete through camp and eventually win the starting job.
Since then, he has shown what he can do, ranking second in the Big Ten with 15 passing touchdowns before Iowa’s bye week in just his first six games as a starter.
Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley throws a pass during the game between Iowa and Penn State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. Both teams are going into the game undefeated with records of 3-0. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 21-19. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)
He was also thrown into something of a spotlight on the national level; he was tied for No. 8 in the country in touchdown passes while only throwing 2 interceptions.
A big reason for that was his coming-out party against in-state rival Iowa State.
In his first Cy-Hawk game as a starter, Stanley went 27-of-41 while throwing for 333 yards and 5 touchdowns.
However, not everything has been a success for the sophomore.
After starting the season 3-0, Iowa nearly upset No. 4 Penn State but lost on a last-second touchdown.
The next week against Michigan State, the strong offense fans saw against Iowa State didn’t seem to make the trip to East Lansing.
On an individual level, fumbles have been a problem for Stanley, too.
He lost the ball twice against Wyoming, which could have been chalked up to his inexperience starting under center.
He had a bad fumble against the Spartans as well. When Iowa was threatening in Michigan State territory, Stanley attempted to throw the ball but lost it behind his back. The Spartans recovered, effectively ending the Hawkeyes’ chance to score and turn the game around.
It’s a small sample size, but Stanley has already learned about the ups and downs of the college game.
“Obviously, you try to build and take positive steps every week,” he said. “I think being able to have some success and then adversity makes you realize that you can’t get complacent. I think just being able to realize that you have to take everybody seriously, and take every rep that you take in practice seriously, is obviously a big thing not just for me but for everybody to be able to grow and build throughout the whole year.”
Stanley has experienced those pains, but just like Iowa after losing to Michigan State, he has bounced back to help his team.
Since earning the starting job, Stanley has made a lot of strides not just in his play on the field, but in his leadership as well.
His presence is felt more in the huddle, he’s been more comfortable making checks at the line of scrimmage, and he has helped Iowa’s new-look offense flow together.
“You can just tell in the way things run a lot smoother,” tight end Noah Fant said. “In the Wyoming game, things were a little stop and go, and our offense was sputtering a little bit. As the games have gone on, it’s been a lot more smoother and a lot more smooth-flowing.”
Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley runds the ball during the Iowa/Illinois football game on Saturday, 7 Oct. 2017. Iowa won the game 45-16. (David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan)
What has impressed his teammates is Stanley’s composure, which enables him to lead no matter the circumstances.
While his success has helped the team win, the bumps he has taken have helped him grow into a solid Big Ten quarterback, which, in turn, ultimately helps the team.
It’s a part of his role. In his first year as a starter, Stanley has been pegged as a leader, and even though he’s a quiet guy, he’s done a good job of remaining even-keeled in each game.
Whether he throws an incomplete pass or an interception, he will likely bounce back, and that’s something his teammates on offense have appreciated.
“He carries himself just like a veteran. He’s really mature,” center James Daniels said. “Even if he has a bad play, he doesn’t hang his head or do any of that. He just focuses on the next play, and if he has a good play, he does the same thing, so I really appreciate that.”