MADISON, Wis. — Joel Stave may have the looks of a pretty boy, but he considers himself to be a tough guy. So don’t be fooled when the Wisconsin quarterback admits to welling up with tears when he walked off the field Oct. 27 during the second half against Michigan State.
“As I passed my mom in the stands, she was kind of crying,” Stave said. “That never helps.”
Stave would soon learn he had suffered a broken left collarbone. But the most painful realization, Stave said, came in knowing his season was likely over, as was his firm grasp on the starting quarterback job.
“Right when I got tackled, I could kind of hear it,” said Stave, who met with the media Monday for the first time since sustaining his injury. “I was able to touch it and feel a bit of a lump there, so I assumed it was a break. After the doctors came out there, that’s what they said.
“I was just really disappointed that I didn’t get to finish the game. I kind of figured that I wouldn’t get to finish out really any of the other games this year. Really disappointed about that.”
Stave, a redshirt freshman, is expected to fully heal in about eight weeks. He was set to get an X-ray Monday on his collarbone to see if it was properly healing. And although it’s possible he could recover in time to play in a January bowl game if Wisconsin qualifies, Stave doesn’t intend to rush back and risk further injury to his collarbone.
“I don’t want to do anything stupid and press it and try and get back before I’m ready and just set myself back again,” he said. “I trust what the doctors tell me. I know my body and when I’m feeling good. If I get a chance to, I’d really like that. But if not, that’s fine.”
Now, Stave must embrace the mindset of having to adjust his goals. Two weeks ago, he was the starting quarterback on a team with Big Ten championship aspirations. More than likely, he won’t play again until spring practice. And when he does return, he could have to battle for the starting job all over again.
Stave said he intends to enter spring practice as Wisconsin’s No. 1 quarterback but acknowledged the other quarterbacks likely will believe they are the team’s No. 1 signal caller as well. He will be competing against Danny O’Brien, Bart Houston and even Curt Phillips, who could return if the NCAA grants him a sixth year of eligibility and he opts to stay in the program.
“I’m guessing it will be again a competition,” Stave said. “I’ve just got to keep telling myself that I’m in a good position to compete for it again and stay positive.”
Stave earned the starting quarterback job in Wisconsin’s fourth game of the season against UTEP. He replaced O’Brien during the second half against Utah State one week earlier and helped guide Wisconsin to a 16-14 come-from-behind victory. Although Stave passed just six times and handed off 19 times, it was enough to convince Badgers coach Bret Bielema that he deserved a shot as the team’s starter.
Over the next five games, Wisconsin went 4-1 and averaged 34.2 points per game. The offense stalled against Michigan State, but Bielema said Stave put together one of his best games of the season, particularly considering the defensive talent the Spartans possessed.
Stave completed 9 of 11 passes for 127 yards with a touchdown before suffering the injury during the third quarter. That’s when Spartans defensive end William Gholston sacked Stave and slammed him into the Camp Randall Stadium turf.
“He kind of picked me up and drove me,” Stave said. “He’s a really, really big, strong guy. With the way I landed on it, it was going to happen.”
For the season, Stave completed 70 of 118 passes (59.3) percent for 1,104 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. He ranks third among Big Ten quarterbacks in passing efficiency
Bielema said the transition from starter to sideline watcher hasn’t been easy for Stave.
“He wants to get involved a little bit too much,” Bielema said. “You see him throwing a football around, he’s standing a little close to the action. I’m like, ‘Buddy, you have a broken bone, let’s stay away from the action. Let’s stay over to the side.’ But he naturally just wants to be engaged. I think it’s going to be a difficult thing.”
Wisconsin’s game against Indiana on Saturday will mark the first time in Stave’s college career that he won’t travel with the team for a road game. Instead, he said he would watch the game on campus with other football players not making the trip.
Stave said he would continue to prepare each week this season as though he was the starter, offering advice to teammates who ask and watching film on upcoming opponents.
This certainly isn’t the ending Stave pictured for his season a few weeks ago, but he is mindful of having three years of eligibility remaining.
“I do have a lot of time left here, and a lot of time left to play,” Stave said. “I’ve just got to remember that and make the most of all the opportunities I have in front of me.”