By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – There are times when Kirk Ferentz will make a subtle hint or do something to show that he believes a certain player on his team is poised for stardom.
The decision to have junior quarterback Nate Stanley represent the Iowa football team at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago is one of those times.
Stanley will be just the second junior to represent Iowa at Big Ten Media Day in 20 seasons under Ferentz, joining linebacker Josey Jewel, who was bestowed the honor in 2016.
But Stanley is the first third-year junior to represent Iowa, because unlike Jewell, Stanley didn’t redshirt as a true freshman.
Stanley has only been in the Iowa program for two years, and yet, he already has earned enough respect and accomplished enough on the field to receive an honor that has eluded many former great Hawkeyes.
The first sign that Stanley might be special came when he won the backup job behind C.J Beathard as true freshman in 2016.
Stanley then won the starting job over Tyler Wiegers last season and would go on to throw for the second most touchdown passes (26) in program history, while only being intercepted six times.
The Wisconsin native showed flashes of greatness last season, including throwing five touchdown passes in victories over both Iowa State and Ohio State.
Stanley performed woefully against Wisconsin, but so did all of his teammates as Iowa was held to just 66 yards during a 38-14 loss in Madison, Wis.
For the most part, last season was a success for the 6-foot-4, 242-pound Stanley in that his team won eight games, including a bowl game for the first time since 2010, and because of his statistics as a first-year starter.
It also seems apparent that Stanley has a big fan in Kirk Ferentz because Ferentz could’ve easily had three seniors represent Iowa at Big Ten Media Day. Ferentz also would have been justified in sending big-play tight end Noah Fant to Big Ten Media Day as a third-year junior.
Senior defensive linemen Parker Hesse and Matt Nelson will join Stanley at Big Ten Media Day on July 24th in Chicago.
Stanley fits the Iowa image under Ferentz in that he is quiet, humble and a team-first guy. That’s the image Ferentz wants to project at Big Ten Media Day.
Ferentz also wants to reward Stanley for how he performed last season, and to promote him for this coming season, which some Iowa fans think could be Stanley's final season as a Hawkeye.
Suggesting that Stanley might skip his senior season to enter the 2019 NFL Draft is putting the cart way in front of the horse. But the fact that Stanley will represent Iowa at Big Ten Media Day as a junior will only fuel that speculation and hype.
Stability at quarterback is often one of the key pieces to building a special team.
Iowa has won at least 10 games in five seasons under Ferentz, most recently in 2015 when quarterback C.J. Beatherd made second-team All-Big Ten.
Iowa finished 11-2 in 2002 as senior quarterback Brad Banks finished runner-up for the Heisman Trophy that season.
Drew Tate was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore and as a first-year starter in 2004 when Iowa finished 10-2 overall and won its last share of a conference title.
And Ricky Stanzi became a star quarterback in 2009 while leading Iowa to victories in its first nine games. He was injured against Northwestern in the 10th game, but returned to lead Iowa to a 24-14 victory over Georgia Tech in the 2010 Orange Bowl, capping an 11-2 season.
Kirk Ferentz never would throw one of his players under the bus, but he also doesn’t get carried away with individual praise in a team sport.
Ferentz’s decision to have Jewell represent Iowa at Big Ten Media Day as a junior now makes perfect sense, considering Jewell’s place in history as a unanimous All-America selection and a three-time captain.
Stanley has to improve considerably in order to match that level of success. But Stanley is off to a good start, evident by his upcoming trip to Chicago.