IOWA CITY – Nate Stanley is as comfortable at the controls of the Iowa offense as the warm bowl of soup he enjoyed after orchestrating one of the biggest victories in Hawkeye football history.
Poised. Patient. Productive.
That’s Stanley, the first-year starting quarterback who ignored the 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive end wrapped around his legs to hit T.J. Hockenson with a two-yard touchdown pass that helped Iowa finish off third-ranked Ohio State last weekend.
Not much has rattled the low-key sophomore who finds himself nearing a school single-season record for touchdown passes as the Hawkeyes prepare for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game at unbeaten Wisconsin.
“What you see is who he is," said tight end Noah Fant, who has been on the receiving end of seven of the 22 touchdown passes Stanley has thrown this season. “He’s just a guy playing football. He’s a good fit for our team. We work hard and play hard and we never get too full of ourselves. That’s Nate, too."
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Wisconsin native is comfortable with that.
He celebrated the Hawkeyes’ 55-24 win over Ohio State last weekend by spending the evening at his apartment with his parents, Jay and Donita, savoring home cooking and the peace and quiet away from the madness that preceded it at Kinnick Stadium.
“I had some soup," Stanley said, explaining how he spent last Saturday night. “My mom brought down some cheeseburger soup. It was good to just relax and have some soup," Stanley said.
He has an appreciation for what the Hawkeyes have been cooking up on the field as well, building a 6-3 record during a season highlighted by a pair of games which have included five touchdown passes thrown by Stanley.
“The last couple weeks, we’ve continued to build and grow closer as a team," Stanley said. “I think just being able to have that close connection with your teammates really helps you give everything that you have. You play for your teammates, not just for yourself."
Only one other quarterback in Hawkeye history has thrown at least five touchdown passes in a single game twice during his career.
Chuck Long, who threw six touchdown passes in games twice during his career, likes what he sees in the quarterback who is five scoring passes away from breaking the Iowa-record 27 touchdown passes Long threw in 1985.
“He seems unflappable, just doesn’t get rattled," Long said. “For a first-year guy, he’s shown so much poise and along with a great arm, that’s a great trait to have. He is doing a good job leading their offense."
He has been at his best against the best opponents Iowa has faced this season.
Against Iowa State, Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State, Stanley has thrown 12 touchdown passes and hasn’t had a single throw picked off while completing 76-of-125 passes.
He is preparing the same way this week as he gets ready to make his first start against his home state school.
Expecting around 200 family and friends to be in the stands at Camp Randall Stadium, Stanley isn’t letting himself get caught up in the moment.
“I’ll just prepare the same way, maybe amp up my preparation so I can be totally prepared," Stanley said. “The routine that I’ve used throughout the week the whole year has worked for me, so I’m just going to continue to do that."
Stanley is a self-built quarterback, learning from high school coaches in his hometown of Menomonie, Wisconsin, and benefitting from what he has learned while working with Greg Davis and now Ken O’Keefe during his time at Iowa.
He attended a few summer camps in high school, watched and tried to replicate a few drills he had seen on YouTube and worked out with teammates in his hometown.
Stanley has never studied under a personal quarterback coach and he seek the exposure that some of his peers has sought on the high-level summer camp circuit.
“What I did most of the time was I just looked up drills on YouTube, something I could do at the field house at my high school in the offseason," Stanley said. “My parents didn’t have a lot of money growing up, so (a quarterback coach) wasn’t something we really could afford. I went to some camps and took away some drills that I could take home and work on."
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz finds that somewhat refreshing.
“I think he was more interested in playing basketball and baseball than he was getting on recruiting sites, going to all the camps and seeing how many nice things they can get people to say about them," Ferentz said.
“He doesn’t have that in him. He couldn’t care less. Not that he’s indifferent to it, but he’s not driven by it. He’s just a guy who likes to play and I think he takes a lot of pride in what he does."
That extends beyond the football field, where his fastball clocked as high as 93 miles per hour attracted the eye of baseball scouts and he scored a school record 1,350 points on the basketball court.
Stanley rolled with the flow and the change of the seasons from football to basketball to baseball.
In the summer, he attended a few camps. He went to one at Pittsburgh, where current Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst was leading the program, and he attended one at Iowa. He left both with scholarship offers.
It was at the Iowa camp where Ferentz offered Stanley a scholarship during a conversation that was so low key that the Iowa coach recalls having to double check to make certain that Stanley and his father knew he had been offered.
“I guess sometimes I’m too subtle. One of my assistants said, ‘Does he know that you offered him?’ and I said, ‘Well, I think he does,’” Ferentz recalled. “So I ran out to the car and said, ‘Oh, by the way, that was an offer,’ just to make sure. I had said, ‘We want you,’ which to me means ‘We want you.’ I made sure we were clear on that point."
Stanley committed to Iowa shortly after his junior season of high school completed.
By the time signing day arrived during his senior year, Chryst had been hired as the head coach at Wisconsin and he made a late attempt to try to persuade Stanley to change his mind.
After talking things over with his parents, Stanley remained committed to the Hawkeyes.
“My parents always said if you give somebody your word, that’s something you’ve got to stick with," Stanley said. “I definitely felt that with the situation with coach Chryst and coach Ferentz."
Chryst remains impressed with Stanley’s work.
“I think he’s done a nice job of continuing to grow and develop," Chryst said. “It looks to me like he’s playing with confidence. He’s tough, and he’s a really good quarterback."
Stanley is also comfortable with his role, as comfortable as a warm bowl of cheeseburger soup on a chilly November day.
“From one week to the next, you keep working. There’s always something you can do better," he said. “I have to be better this week than I was last week. That’s the way it works."