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Big Ten Spotlight: West Division coaches in long-term deals

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has praised the leadership of his senior quarterback Nate Stanley all season. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

IOWA CITY – For three seasons, Nate Stanley has been Iowa’s rock.

As he prepares to take the field at Kinnick Stadium Saturday for the final time in his collegiate career, the Iowa quarterback expects to deal with emotions and then deal with Illinois.

“It’s not going to be easy. There are going to be emotions, but there is a game to play, too, and I know I have to be ready to go from the start,’’ Stanley said.

That hasn’t been an issue for the Hawkeyes’ third-year starting quarterback.

Only two quarterbacks in Iowa history – Chuck Long and Drew Tate – have started more than the collection of 36 consecutive games Stanley will add to in today’s 11 a.m. match-up against a Fighting Illini team looking to extend a four-game win streak.

“He’s answered the bell every time since stepping in after C.J. (Beathard), that tells you much of a competitor he is and what he’s made of,’’ Iowa offensive lineman Landan Paulsen said. “It doesn’t always show – he’s got a pretty good poker face – but he’s a tough dude.’’

Stanley has worked his way up the Hawkeye career charts.

Over the past three seasons, he has thrown for 7,615 yards, completed 58.6 percent of his passes and connected on throws that have resulted in touchdowns 66 times, second in Hawkeye history only to the 74 touchdown passes Long threw during his career from 1981-85.

“I’m still hoping he breaks my record,’’ Long said. “He’s shown over time just what type of a competitor he is. Big, strong kid, he’s shown some good toughness and he’s gotten better every year which is what you hope to see from any player.’’

Stanley hasn’t missed a start since stepping into the starting quarterback’s job in 2017 after Beathard exhausted his eligibility.

There are only two quarterbacks currently at the collegiate level who have started more consecutive games than Stanley.

Jake Fromm of Georgia has started 38 straight games for the Bulldogs and Mason Fine of North Texas has made 37 consecutive starts.

“I’ve always felt that you do what you can to get ready to go every week, just move from one game to the next,’’ Stanley said.

Preparing for the final games of his collegiate career, Stanley has guided the Hawkeyes to a 24-12 record as a starting quarterback.

“The time, it’s really flown by. It seems like yesterday I got on campus for the first day of practice and was just trying to not get yelled at,’’ Stanley said. “Now, it’s the week leading into my last game in Kinnick. It is extremely special.’’

Coach Kirk Ferentz praises the leadership Stanley has provided throughout his tenure, something that has positioned him to become a rare three-year captain for Iowa.

The Iowa coach said every quarterback who has started during his tenure has brought something different to program and from the days before his first start in the 2017 season opener against Wyoming until now, he has encouraged Stanley to grow.

“Nate’s biggest challenge to this day, and I’ll say probably until he’s done playing, is that he is such a perfectionist,’’ Ferentz said.

“He puts a lot of pressure on himself. That’s one of the reasons he is so good and has been so good in almost everything he has done academically, athletically. But, there comes a point, too, where you hope it’s a little fun and you get the chance to enjoy the moment.’’

Stanley plans to take a little time to do just that today.

“I don’t take it for granted,’’ he said. “Whenever you have the opportunity to be part of something that is bigger than yourself, you need to appreciate it. It’s why I came to Iowa, the culture of the program and all of things beyond football that is about.’’

He expects to look around a bit as he greets his parents at midfield, one of 19 seniors who will be honored before the start of 19th-ranked Iowa’s final home game.

“It’s going to be a special day,’’ Stanley said.

Then, he plans to put his helmet on and get ready to help the Hawkeyes take another step toward their current goal.

At 7-3, Iowa needs to win its final two regular-season games and its bowl game to join eight other teams in Hawkeye history to reach 10 victories in a season.

“That would be pretty awesome,’’ Stanley said. “It’s out there for us to get and this week is the next step to get that done.’’

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