By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – It took half of the regular season, but Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley finally showed some emotion.
This milestone moment occurred at Iowa’s weekly media day session on Tuesday.
Stanley is a regular participant at the weekly press gathering because the media always wants to hear from the starting quarterback.
But the soft-spoken Stanley chooses his words carefully and always tries to say the right thing while showing as little emotion as possible.
If you’re lucky, you might see Stanley let down his guard and grin every now and then and that’s what happened on Tuesday when I made the mistake of assuming that Stanley was a Green Bay Packers fan since he was born and raised in Wisconsin.
I figured Stanley was depressed about Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers having suffered a season-ending injury against the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday, so I asked Stanley about it.
“I’m not a Packers fan, I’m a Bears fan,” Stanley said with a grin. “It impacts me in a good way.
“I don’t wish injury upon anybody, but maybe now the Bears will be able to beat the Packers.”
My only regret is that I didn’t have Stanley saying that on video so you could see the transformation for yourself.
He went from being guarded and reserved to being relaxed and funny. He even used his hands to help express himself.
It was a side of Stanley that I hadn't seen before.
His affection for the Chicago Bears can be traced to his father Jay Stanley, who is originally from Illinois and still loyal to Chicago sports teams, including the Chicago Cubs.
The younger Stanley didn’t stand out amongst his peers in Menomonie, Wis., just because of his size and his ability to play quarterback. He stood out because of where his loyalties lie.
A Chicago Bears fan living in small-town Wisconsin is sort of like an Iowa State fan living in Coralville.
“I get a lot of crap from my friends at school,’ Stanley said. “It was more so for football than it was for baseball. But I get a lot of crap for being a Cubs fan. People say I was just a bandwagon fan from last year.
“But I’ve been a Cubs fan my whole life, and a Bears fan my whole life.”
Stanley’s friends, even though most of them are probably Wisconsin Badger fans, can’t give him any crap about his first season as Iowa’s starting quarterback because in many ways he has exceeded expectations with 15 touchdown passes and just two interceptions heading into Saturday's game at Northwestern.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Stanley is far from being a finished product as a second-year sophomore. He still struggles with accuracy on deep passes and with ball security in the pocket. But the good still outweighs the bad afer six games with Stanley as the starter.
“Right now, I think we have a pretty efficient young quarterback who's exceeded our expectations and really has done a fairly good job for us,” Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said last Wednesday when asked to evaluate Stanley after six games. “You look at the touchdowns, interceptions, you look at the completion percentage; he's right at about 57 percent. So just his efficiency numbers have been impressive.”
Stanley spent last season as the backup behind C.J. Beathard and then spent nearly nine months competing with junior Tyler Wiegers for the starting job. It finally was announced just days before the Sept. 2 season opener against Wyoming that Stanley would be the starter.
Stanley responded to the news in typical fashion, saying he was grateful for the opportunity. He also praised the competition from Wiegers in practice, but said little beyond that.
Stanley has since solidified himself as the starter, partly by showing an uncanny ability to move on from mistakes. Nothing seems to rattle him for too long.
“The thing about Nate is his leadership,” said Iowa senior running back Akrum Wadley. “Every week he improves on different things. But the main thing I like when I think about Nate is he’s always composed and always talks about it no matter if he threw a pick, if he fumbles or if it’s a turnover on the offense, he never shows emotion. He never hangs his head.
“He’s one of those type of guys that if he throws three or four interceptions, he’ll come back and throw like four or five touchdowns. He never gets down on himself and he always sticks to the plan.”
Stanley also sticks with his favorite teams. He could've succumbed to peer pressure while growing up in Wisconsin and switched his allegiance to the Packers.
But he stayed the course and didn't let the noise bother him, much like he has while playing quarterback this season.