By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – No student-athlete at the University of Iowa is under more pressure to perform than quarterback Spencer Petras.
Spencer Lee is under pressure to become Iowa’s first four-time national champion in wrestling, while center Tyler Linderbaum is under pressure to live up to the enormous hype from being considered the top player in the country at his position.
Caitlin Clark will be under pressure to build off her spectacular freshman season with the Iowa women’s basketball team, while Iowa men’s basketball player Keegan Murray will be under pressure to live up to his burgeoning hype.
But none of them, not even Lee in his pursuit of unprecedented success, will face what Petras faces as Iowa’s starting quarterback.
The pressure comes from playing arguably the most important position in team sports, and without question the most high-profile position in the most high-profile sport.
Petras was asked Wednesday if he feels pressure as Iowa’s starting quarterback.
The San Rafael, Calif., native was among four Iowa players who met with the media on Wednesday at Kinnick Stadium.
“I don’t know if pressure is the right word,” Petras said. “There certainly is a lot of responsibility for the quarterbacks. So I guess there is pressure in that sense. But this is the game I love. This is the game I’ve been playing for basically my whole life.”
“This is just part of it. This is what a quarterback has to do. So I guess, yes, pressure, but not maybe not in the sense of like, I don’t know, it’s hard to say. You know what I’m saying.”
Petras also knows that he has critics and naysayers, but he pays little attention to the noise.
“I know it’s out there, it comes with playing the position,” he said. “You just can’t let if affect you. ”
Petras seems to fully understands the pressure with being the starting quarterback at a Power 5 program, and in a state where there are no professional sports.
But in addition to that, Petras is also Iowa’s starting quarterback at a time when Iowa State is soaring to unprecedented heights under star quarterback Brock Purdy, and at a time when the Iowa program is trying to move forward in the wake of the racial unrest from last summer when multiple former Iowa black players accused the program of racial disparities.
One of the best ways for Iowa to control the narrative is to win games, and in that respect, Petras is riding a six-game winning streak from last season.
For him individually, however, last season was a mixed bag of results as Petras struggled at times with accuracy and with touch.
But he also held the offense together after a 0-2 start and performed better as the season progressed.
However, some fans still have their doubts about Petras, and will continue to doubt him until he lives up to their expectations whatever that might be.
And while Petras sort of struggled to answer whether he feels pressure, that’s probably because he didn’t’ want to show any signs of weakness. He acknowledged the pressure, but was careful to not make it sound like a burden.
Petras appears firmly entrenched as the starter, and he also has the respect and admiration of his coaches and teammates.
Another positive is that the the global pandemic, although, still a concern, isn’t nearly the distraction it was at this time a year ago.
“I mean mentally it’s easier because last summer I got quarantined twice and missed probably three-and-a-half weeks of our seven-week block, Petras said. “That’s challenging. And I think for everyone, it’s just easier knowing that on Monday I’m going to be at football and not have to worry about if someone (tested) positive or contract trace or whatever. So that’s great.
“I think from a physical standpoint it’s probably more challenging because we’re doing more work than those of us who got quarantined last summer. But that’s why we’re here, to prepare for the season. So it’s definitely good. It’s good work. I think we’re all pretty excited that we’re not necessarily done, but we’re moving past the negative ramifications of Covid.”
Petras’ performance on the field will ultimately determine whether he can handle the pressure. He knows the offense from top to bottom and has control of the huddle.
It will basically come down to whether he produces enough to win games.
If Petras performs well and Iowa wins, the criticism will fade, but the pressure to perform well still will be there.
But if Petras and Iowa both struggle, the critics will pounce, and nobody gets judged more harshly than a struggling quarterback on a team that struggles.
Petras has spent part of the summer working with quarterback coach Tony Racioppi, and while that should be beneficial, there still is no substitute for experience.
“I prepared before when I wasn’t playing,” Petras said. “But until you get on the field, you don’t know how much your preparation actually impacts you, and what works and what doesn’t.
“So I just have a much better idea of what works for me as a quarterback.”
Iowa’s backup quarterbacks, on the other hand, don’t have the benefit of having substantial game experience and won’t unless one of them can surpass Petras on the depth chart.
Sophomore Alex Padilla appeared briefly in two games last season, while freshman Deuce Hogan didn’t see any game action last season.
The job is Petras’ to lose, and therein lies the challenge, and with that challenges comes the pressure.
Another change from last season is that Petras will now play in packed stadiums this fall with many of the Covid restrictions having been lifted.
“I’m definitely really excited,” said Petras, who played briefly in three games in 2019 and in two games in 2018. “I think it’s obviously a big challenge compared to last year.”
Petras played behind Nate Stanley during his first two seasons at Iowa and he watched how Stanley handled the pressure and learned from it.
“I watched Nate and how he operated out of the intensity of a hostile crowd, and what we need to do as quarterbacks differently when it’s a hostile crowd, or even if it’s Kinnick Stadium and there’s 70,000 people cheering for you, ” Petras said.
One thing is certain in that Petras definitely has the support and confidence of his teammates.
Junior tight end Sam LaPorta talked Wednesday about Petras having a chip on his shoulder due to the naysayers and doubters that question whether Petras should be Iowa’s clear-cut starter.
Petras tried to downplay the criticism, but he also has feelings, and it’s hard to ignore everything that’s being said.
“I think he kind of has the chip-on-the-shoulder mentality where like it fuels him,” LaPorta said. “Sometimes, you don’t want to look at the things that people say about you, but you still catch wind of it. And I think it fuels a lot of us.”
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has benched his starting quarterback before, most recently moving C.J. Beathard ahead of Jake Rudock shortly after the 2014 season, and after Rudock had started for two seasons.
The switch from Rudock to Beathard was a huge story because anytime there is a switch at quarterback is a huge story.
If Petras didn’t realize that when he came to Iowa, he should by now because playing quarterback is like no other position in team sports when it comes to dealing with pressure.