By TOM LEA
MADISON – They call him ‘Sunshine,’ and aptly so.
His long, flowing blond hair is very reminiscent of the quarterback character in the hit football movie ‘Remember the Titans.’ In that film, ‘Sunshine,’ with long flowing, blond hair, shows up at practice one day and wins over the team with a big arm and consistent play.
It makes perfect sense why Wisconsin freshman walk-on Joel Stave has earned that nickname.
“Because of the long blonde hair,” Stave said earlier this week. “But you know I don’t mind it.”
Stave has a California cool about him, even though he’s spent his entire life living in the state of Wisconsin.
It’s his confidence (furthest thing from arrogance), his youthful exuberance and his hint of naivety. It certainly goes further than his blonde locks.
He truly believes he can win the ongoing quarterback battle in UW fall camp. And if you try to tell him different he’ll probably just shrug it off like he has every other time somebody has doubted him.
“I like to think I’m the No. 1 (quarterback),” Stave said following a recent practice. “As a competitor I like to think that. I’m sure Curt Phillips and Danny O’Brien would like to think the same thing so I’m just going to keep working and competing to be that No. 1 when (game day) comes.”
Of all the things that have bothered Stave throughout the course of fall camp, it surprisingly has nothing to do with learning new coordinator Matt Canada’s playbook. It’s not the continual questions he answers or pressure he undoubtedly feels about or with the ongoing quarterback competition.
It’s not about whether his athleticism is conducive to success at Wisconsin or whether a walk-on quarterback can actually beat a highly touted transfer and a veteran senior — two scholarship athletes, mind you — to become the starting quarterback for the Badgers.
No, the thing that bothers Stave the most is himself — when he makes a bad throw, misses an opportunity or makes the wrong read at the line of scrimmage.
“That’s something that I had struggled with,” Stave said. “You know you make a bad play and then you come out right away and you’re just thinking about that. Coach Matt Canada has really worked with us about forgetting the bad plays and thinking about the good plays and forgetting basically everything you’ve done.
“Just keep moving forward.”
In order to shrug off the inadequate moments that bother him, Stave has an approach to stay steady — every rep, every down and every practice is the same. He’s not the type to get wrapped up with what the members of the media are saying about him or the quarterback race he’s in.
“As long as you’re playing consistently and consistently making good decisions,” Stave explained. “Everything will work itself out.”
Junior Danny O’Brien may have separated himself from the rest of the pack throughout the course of practice this past week. Though the quarterback derby isn’t over by any means right now, it still seems as though O’Brien has begun to emerge as the viable starting threat just as many expected when he transferred into UW from Maryland.
When asked about the importance of this quarterback race, especially when taking into account the winner will likely hold the position for at least two years, Stave had to take a second to think of his response.
It was clear he had never thought of it in that manner.
“I want that spot,” Stave said. “And I think to have it for four years would be really a blessing. I’m not really looking at it as I’ve got to beat out this guy. I’m thinking I’ve got to get better myself, that I’ve got to beat myself from the day before and just keep going forward that way.
“I’m not thinking about everyone else.”
Head coach Bret Bielema has said he’d like to name a starting quarterback by Aug. 22, 10 days out from UW’s season opener inside Camp Randall against Northern Iowa. Though O’Brien might be separating himself from the rest of the pack, Stave isn’t giving up hope.
“Because a starter hasn’t really been named yet,” Stave said. “So I’ve just got to keep telling myself that I’m in position to get that spot and stay confident with that.”
Who said a Wisconsinite couldn’t have a cool confidence about him?