Nate Stanley was that guy you hated to face when you were playing youth sports. He was bigger, stronger, faster and better than his peers in any sport he touched.
Just ask his Little League coach in Menomonie, Wis.
"When he was 12 years old, it was very apparent this is a gifted kid," Joe LaBuda said. "He was way bigger than everybody else. He threw the ball way harder than everybody else. Kids were terrified at the plate because he threw so hard."
By sixth grade, Stanley was playing basketball on the eighth-grade team. By ninth grade, he was a strong-armed quarterback and pitcher on the varsity football and baseball teams. By his sophomore year, he was attracting attention of college football recruiters. He was Menomonie's version of Joe Mauer, with Division I scholarship offers in football, basketball and baseball.
"He was always ahead of the game," said LaBuda, better known as Menomonie High School's longtime football coach.
So much ahead of the game that Stanley now is in his second year as Iowa's starting quarterback. On Saturday, he'll bring that big arm and his 6-4, 242-pound frame to TCF Bank Stadium, where his Hawkeyes (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) face the Gophers (3-1, 0-1).
Stanley, a junior, sees the visit to Minnesota as a business trip, not a homecoming, even though he grew up 70 miles east of Minneapolis.
"Most of the people I went to high school with were Wisconsin fans," he said. "I'll have my parents there. It makes it a little easier for them, because they're only an hour and a half away."
Looking to rebound
Like the Gophers, Stanley and the Hawkeyes were on their bye last week. Both teams are coming off losses in their Big Ten opener: Iowa fell 28-17 to Wisconsin, the Gophers lost 42-13 at Maryland.
Iowa's loss to Wisconsin was tighter than that 11-point margin indicates. The Hawkeyes led 17-14 before the Badgers scored the go-ahead touchdown with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter and tacked on another TD with 22 seconds to play after an Iowa turnover.
"It really just shows that we have to be mentally focused for all four quarters," Stanley said. "We had a couple lapses in our focus, and it cost us. Those one or two plays can really make a difference in the game."
Last year, Stanley led the Hawkeyes to an 8-5 record while passing for 2,437 yards and 26 touchdowns with six interceptions. He's off to a slower start this year, with 839 yards and five TD passes with three interceptions, but he has all of Gophers coach P.J. Fleck's attention.
"He's strong," Fleck said. "Last week's quarterback at Maryland [Kasim Hill], we're hanging on him, and he still throws a touchdown. This is the same thing. He's big, he can throw when people are hanging on him, he's tough. He's a really good leader, and you can tell the team responds well to him and they play for him. He's a football player, not just a good quarterback."
Picking the Hawkeyes
Why isn't Stanley playing for his home-state Badgers? LaBuda has the answer.
"Wisconsin at the time had [Gary] Andersen as coach, and they just totally dropped the ball on [Stanley]," LaBuda said. "If Paul Chryst was there three months earlier, Nate might have been a Badger. When Paul got the job, he came 100 miles an hour at him. It was too late at that point."
The Gophers, then coached by Jerry Kill, showed interest, as did Michigan State, Stanford and Pittsburgh, but Stanley stayed true to his November 2014 verbal commitment to the Hawkeyes. LaBuda said Stanley didn't enjoy the recruiting process because he didn't want the attention on himself.
"He's the nicest kid you're ever going to meet," LaBuda said.
Stanley found his fit in Iowa, and he's happy he's a Hawkeye.
"First and foremost, I really like the coaches," Stanley said. "Coach Ferentz has done a great job of just making sure his staff is filled with great people. The football is kind of built on top of that. The offensive style that Iowa plays fits me better than a lot of other places."