Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE
After a broken collarbone ended his promising freshman campaign, Stave returns to the practice field fully healthy and confident. Joining him, though, is what promises to be one of the fiercest quarterback battles Wisconsin has seen in a while.
Consumed by the hype surrounding the transfer of Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien, Joel Stave was an afterthought entering the 2012 season. O'Brien, the former Terrapin standout, was anointed the best solution to fill the massive void left by Russell Wilson. Stave, meanwhile, had yet to attempt a pass as a Division I gunslinger.
O'Brien was given the reins of Wisconsin's offense to start the season, yet it only took three games before head coach Bret Bielema and his staff decided to make a change. Enter Stave.
Wisconsin went on to earn a 4-1 record, including three conference wins, while the Greenfield, Wis. native started under center before the Michigan State game. During that five-game stretch, Stave threw for 965 yards, five touchdowns and only three interceptions.
This spring, Stave is anywhere but the back of the coaches' minds. The sophomore is right in the thick of the open quarterback competition, and Stave will not be counted out after he showed glimmers of brilliance last season before he was forced off the field.
It was Oct. 12, 2012, when Stave's surging season screeched to a halt early in the second half of a Big Ten clash between the Badgers and the Spartans when the quarterback broke his collarbone.
"He played great," former UW quarterback and current player-coach Jon Budmayr said during spring practice. "He was playing unbelievable in that game (against Michigan State) that he went down with the injury."
Stave had thrown for 127 yards and a touchdown before being helped off of the field.
With the exception of one passing attempt in the 2013 Rose Bowl, Stave's rookie campaign was over after the MSU game. He was then forced to look forward to the next season and get back into the flow of the game, which he admitted was a little challenging at first.
"When you're not playing, you kind of start to lose it a little bit and then the first couple of snaps, things seem to be going fast," Stave said. "But, after watching film and getting few plays, then things start to slow down again."
After a tumultuous offseason with multiple coaching exits and new hires, Stave finds himself in the middle of a five-player battle for the starting quarterback position. That number could have been six, but new head coach Gary Andersen announced Budmayr would forego his rehab from elbow injuries to become a student-coach.
While all five players -- sixth-year senior Curt Phillips, redshirt freshman Bart Houston, JuCo transfer Tanner McEvoy, O'Brien and Stave -- would undoubtedly rather be named the starter outright, Stave says the competition will bring out the best in all of them.
"Competition makes everyone better," Stave said. "You see other guys make plays, you know you've got to go out and do that same thing. So, I think it really pushes everyone to do better."
In the midst of the competition, Stave and the rest of Wisconsin's offense will have to adapt to an almost entirely new coaching staff brought on Andersen.
More specifically, the quarterbacks will have to acclimate themselves with new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Andy Ludwig, who came over from San Diego State.
While Ludwig was of course reluctant to name an early frontrunner in the quarterback race, he did say experience was a characteristic he would be looking for, something Stave gained in his six starts last season.
"There's no replacement for experience -- you can't coach it," Ludwig said. "The room is full of guys like that. Three of the six guys in the room, they've started for the University of Wisconsin and that carries a lot of weight."
The other two quarterbacks to start a game under center for UW would be Phillips and O'Brien, who started five and three games, respectively.
Along with his experience, Stave brings a lot more to the table when he takes the field for Wisconsin.
"[Stave] is a smart, big, physical kid," Budmayr said. "He throws the ball well and he's a grinder, too. He's going to prepare. He's going to work hard. That's something that I picked up on early."
While Stave is pleased with the way he performed last season, he knows he still has some growing left to do if he is going to beat out five other guys for the coveted start role.
"[The biggest thing I have to work on is] continuing to learn the offense and trying to build on what I know so far," he said.
The young signal caller did a lot to prove he is a starting-quality quarterback last season in his six starts, but he will have to impress all over again with the new coaching staff as the judge.
One member of the staff knows if Stave is given his chance, he will take off and run away with it.
"[Stave] has got a great future ahead of him and just needs to keep working hard and he's going to do special things," Budmayr said.