MADISON, Wis. — Somewhere in Joel Stave’s apartment, a hamper is filled with old T-shirts missing left sleeves, scissors having sheared off everything down to the hip.
This is no fashion statement from Wisconsin’s redshirt freshman quarterback. It was done out of necessity and comfort for the good of his aching collarbone.
Stave broke his left collarbone during a game against Michigan State on Oct. 27, and for the next month, the range of motion in his left arm was nonexistent as he wrapped himself in a sling to avoid further pain in the area.
“It ached for two-and-a-half weeks, three weeks or so,” he said Friday after practice. “I never moved it at all, really. I slept in a recliner. I kept my arm basically pinned to my stomach.”
The injury then led Stave to make a bold decision with “seven or eight” of his T-shirts.
“If I cut the left sleeve off all the way down to my hip, then I could just pull it over and kind of slide my arm through without ever moving it,” Stave said. “That’s the worst part of breaking a collarbone is changing. So if I only wear zip-up jackets and cut-off sleeve shirts, I’m good.”
Eight weeks after sustaining the injury, Stave is almost all good, in fact.
Stave has done exactly as doctors instructed, which included not moving the arm during the first month of his recovery. Now, he is on the cusp of making a full return to Wisconsin (8-5) just in time for the team’s Rose Bowl game against Stanford (11-2) on Jan. 1. He has yet to be cleared for full contact, but because quarterbacks never get hit in practice, he has been able to hop into drills during the past week.
“I’m basically just hoping to be healthy and give myself a chance to play,” Stave said. “And then it’s not my call from there. If they want to play me, I’ll obviously do the best I can. I’d love to have that opportunity. But it’s their call.”
If Stave is available for the Rose Bowl, it certainly would create an interesting scenario because redshirt senior Curt Phillips has played well in his absence. Phillips took over the starting role after Stave’s injury and has gone 2-2 in four starts. In both losses — against Ohio State and Penn State — Phillips led game-tying touchdown drives in the final minutes of regulation to force overtime.
Phillips has completed 36 of 65 passes for 457 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Although he hasn’t been asked to do too much with his arm, he is well respected among teammates and is a proven leader.
Stave said he understood the situation and was hoping to contribute in any way he could. Phillips, for his part, said he would approach the Rose Bowl like any other game the past month with him as the team’s starter.
“As far as I’m concerned, I play until they tell me to come out,” Phillips said. “I don’t control it at all. When my number is called, I try to make the most of it. Competition brings out the best in everybody, and if they think he can contribute to helping us win the game, I’m all for it”
Interim coach Barry Alvarez said Saturday after practice that Phillips had earned the right to start, but if Stave were cleared to play, both quarterbacks would be used in the Rose Bowl.
Stave, a redshirt freshman from Greenfield, Wis., entered in relief for quarterback Danny O’Brien at halftime of Wisconsin’s third game of the season. At the time, Wisconsin trailed Utah State 14-3. Stave helped lead Wisconsin to a 16-14 comeback victory and earned his first career start the following week against UTEP. He started the next six games until sustaining the broken collarbone when he was sacked in the third quarter against Michigan State.
This season, Stave has completed 70 of 118 passes for 1,104 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. He also put up some impressive performances along the way that caught the eye of teammates and coaches.
Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada praised Stave for the way he played during his first road start against Nebraska on Sept. 29. Although Wisconsin lost 30-27, Stave threw for 214 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
“People say what they want, but the way he played at Nebraska, in that environment — which was as good as I’ve been around — was really, really special,” Canada said last week. “And he takes care of the ball. Joel’s got a great, great future. If he can play, he’ll play some, probably (in the Rose Bowl). We’ll just see how we’re going and see where we’re at.”
Badgers left guard Ryan Groy said he hoped Stave would earn an opportunity to play some in the Rose Bowl simply because of the way his last game against Michigan State ended.
“He played great in the beginning of the season,” Groy said. “It’d be great to give him another chance and, hopefully, protect him a little better than we did. It would be redemption for us to prove that you can sit in the pocket and not get crushed every time. It would make us feel a little better.”
During the recovery process, Stave received electromagnetic stimulation therapy for the first few weeks, a technique that produces gentle, low induction impulses to rejuvenate cells in the body. When he could move the arm without pain in his collarbone, Stave moved on to band-resistance activities. He also worked out his lower body with lunges and leg curls so as not to fall behind physically.
“I was active, so I don’t think I lost that much in my lower body,” Stave said. “Upper body surprisingly comes back pretty quick. Five weeks of not moving, to do a couple of arm raises, it’s amazing how quick it comes back.”
Stave already is looking ahead to spring practice and an opportunity to earn back his starting quarterback role, but it likely won’t come easily.
Phillips, who missed two full seasons with ACL injuries, has petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility and could receive word on his status in the next few weeks. O’Brien will be a redshirt senior next season and has started 20 career games, which included 17 starts at Maryland before he transferred.
All three will be in competition to impress new coach Gary Andersen, who left Utah State to accept the Wisconsin head coaching position earlier this week.
“I like to think it is still my job,” Stave said. “I thought I played pretty well in the chance that I did get to play. And I think if I can give us a chance to win, I’ll continue to play. That’s basically my mindset.”
Canada won’t be around to see Stave’s development because he has accepted the offensive coordinator position at North Carolina State. But Canada believes Badgers fans will be pleased with what is in store for the rest of Stave’s career.
“You talk about the future for this place,” Canada said, “what he was able to do as a freshman was awesome.”