Lucas at Large: Stave working to hit the right notes

Joel Stave knew that the bar would be raised competitively when he graduated from Whitnall High School in December and enrolled for the second semester of classes at the UW.

Had he stayed at Whitnall through the spring, Stave might have continued to compete on the track and field team as a high jumper. As a junior, he qualified for the Wisconsin state meet.

But he opted instead to get a jump-start on his education with the Badgers.

That has entailed measuring up on the field and in the classroom for the 6-foot-5, 204-pound Stave, who's built along the lines of Dwight Stones, a former world record-holder in the high jump.

"I figured it was a really good opportunity for me to learn and get ahead of the game as far as school and football,'' said Stave, who has been getting reps as a backup to the backup quarterback.

Jon Budmayr, who will be a redshirt sophomore, has been working exclusively with the No. 1 offense throughout spring practice. Budmayr was Scott Tolzien's backup last season.

Joel StaveCurt Phillips, a redshirt junior, has been limited. Phillips is still rehabbing from two ACL surgeries within the last year. In scrimmages, redshirt freshman Joe Brennan has been with the No. 2 unit.

Stave has taken turns with both the No. 2 and No. 3 offense, mostly the latter. "It's a big step up as far as the speed of the game and everything,'' he said. "But I think I'm adjusting pretty well.''

Because of his inexperience with the system, Stave noted that the other quarterbacks "have helped out a lot when I don't understand a route or a signal - they've been there to straighten me out.''

UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst has also tried to ease the transition to college football. "He breaks down the reads and makes it a lot easier,'' Stave said. "He helps speed up how you play.''

As a high school senior, Stave threw for 2,635 yards and 22 touchdowns. He had six games of 250-plus yards through the air, including a career-high 416 yards (23-of-31) against St. Thomas More.

Stave accounted for 5,017 passing yards as a two-year starter for Whitnall with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 40-to-8. Despite the big numbers, it didn't add up to much recruiting traffic.

The Badgers originally targeted Stave as a preferred walk-on but, eventually, a tender opened up for Stave, whose only other offer came from Western Michigan.

"I ended up not having a lot of options,'' he said. "But I've always wanted to come here. I've always wanted to be a Badger. I felt like I could play in the Big Ten and I wanted to give it a shot.

"I had always dreamed of playing college football. But I didn't go to a whole lot of camps the summer after my sophomore year. I did after my junior year and I got a lot of good feedback.''

That's when he first realized that he could play at this level of competition. His prep coach, Rob Leboeuf, has said that Stave through hard work has raised the bar of excellence at Whitnall.

He also once described Stave as "a raw kid that could throw the ball a country mile.''

That's what the Badgers have seen at times this spring.

Stave has not decided yet if he will return home to Greenfield for his high school prom.

"I do miss walking around the hallways with all my buddies,'' he admitted. "But I only live about an hour and 15 minutes away so I can still get back on weekends now and again.''

Stave is planning on majoring in engineering at Wisconsin. "I know it would be quite a workload,'' he said. "But we'll start with that and see where it takes me.''

He has taken that same approach with his football, and his music. Stave is very accomplished at the piano. "My mom got me started playing when I was in the first or second grade,'' he said.

Although he can handle a harmonica - and has taught himself how to play the guitar - his first love would be the piano. He played in a couple of high school talent shows. "I'm not bad,'' he said.

 Among his favorite selections is "Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me),'' which earned Train a Grammy.

Earlier this semester, Stave and his teammates were at reception hosted by UW chancellor Biddy Martin, who asked if anyone knew how to play the piano. "A couple of the guys knew I did and volunteered me,'' Stave said. "So I played a couple of songs.''

Playing the piano has served as an escape for Stave, too.  "I found a piano in the basement of the Regent where I'm living,'' he said. "Sometimes when I'm looking for something to do, I'll go down there and play for an hour or so. It's very relaxing.''

Reading defenses, not music, is still his priority, though.

"I've learned a lot already and there's a lot of room to get better,'' he said.