'He's a hard-nosed dude:' Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley prepares for his Kinnick farewell

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Landan Paulsen bristled Tuesday when it was suggested that Nate Stanley plays the “glamorous” position of quarterback.

That’s not how Paulsen, a senior guard, sees the Hawkeyes’ signal-caller. And Paulsen had the stories to back it up.

“He’s a hard-nosed dude,” Paulsen said of Stanley, who is about to make his 21st and final start at Kinnick Stadium on at 11 a.m. Saturday, when No. 20 Iowa (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten Conference) hosts Illinois (6-4, 4-3).

Story No. 1: Paulsen was asked by a friend in Crawfordsville to help haul some trees off his Conservation Reserve Program acreage early this summer. It’s a job that requires muscle and a willingness to get your hands dirty. Naturally, Paulsen hit up fellow offensive linemen Tyler Linderbaum and Kyler Schott.

Then he turned to Stanley. The quarterback was on board.

That’s how Stanley and the three Hawkeyes who would constitute the interior of his starting offensive line formed an early bond, dragging trees out of a grove and loading them on a truck. Linderbaum lost his cell phone among the timber along the way and they spent an hour looking for it. The family prepared a nice lunch topped with some chocolate cake that Schott is still talking about. Stanley got to see his young blockers — Linderbaum is a redshirt freshman who starts at center and Schott a sophomore starting at right guard — in a new light.

“It was good, hard work. It was kind of the foundation of what the season would become, and guys stepping out of their comfort zone to do something that maybe they hadn’t done before,” Paulsen said. “That’s a story that we’ll have forever.”

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley removes his helmet to chat with offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz during a win over Minnesota. Next up for the senior is his final start at Kinnick Stadium, vs. Illinois on Saturday.

Story No. 2: Paulsen was visiting Stanley in his off-campus apartment one day and found him coated in sweat while chiseling a large piece of oak.

“He really likes to work with his hands. He loves woodworking,” Paulsen said. “He was making his bed frame.”

Quarterbacks may typically be the faces of their football teams, on a slightly higher plane than the rest of the locker room. But that’s not how Paulsen views his.

“He’s down to earth,” Paulsen said of Stanley. “I think we could transition him into being an offensive lineman.”

Stanley does stand a sturdy 6-foot-4, 243 pounds. He is skilled enough to have 66 touchdown passes to his credit, second in Hawkeye history to Chuck Long (74). He is a strong enough leader to have accumulated a 24-12 record in his starts, the third-most wins of any Iowa quarterback (Long had 35; Ricky Stanzi 27).

But his eyes lit up when told what Paulsen had said about him.

“I’m very honored for him to say that, because it definitely is something that shows your approach and your attitude,” Stanley said. “Because those guys (offensive linemen), they get beat up every single day.”

Stanley arrived at Iowa from Menomonie, Wisconsin, in 2016. As a true freshman, he won the backup job to C.J. Beathard, appearing in seven games and completing 5 of 9 passes.

The Hawkeyes opened that year at home against Miami of Ohio. Stanley was so caught up in the moment that he doesn’t even remember his first “swarm” out of the tunnel and onto the Kinnick turf. It was a mistake he promised himself he wouldn’t make again, and he hasn’t.

“It’s always special when you get to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself, and one of the reasons I chose to come to Iowa is because of that close family atmosphere,” Stanley said.

Stanley threw 26 touchdown passes as a sophomore and matched that total as a junior. He led the Hawkeyes to victories in bowl games at the end of each season. Only Stanzi has quarterbacked Iowa to three bowl wins.

If the Hawkeyes win their final three games, Stanley will match Stanzi in total wins and that perfect mark in bowl games. Achieving a 10-win season is on the minds of all the Hawkeyes. It has become their new goal after being eliminated from the Big Ten West race.

Only eight previous Iowa teams have gotten to double-digit wins, most recently in 2015, the year before Stanley arrived.

“It’d be huge. It would put us in some pretty elite company,” Stanley said.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has said repeatedly this season that he would like to see Stanley loosen up a bit. He mentioned it again at his Tuesday news conference.

“He's such a perfectionist. He puts a lot of pressure on himself,” Ferentz said of Stanley. “That's one of the reasons he is so good and has been so good in almost anything he's done academically, athletically. But also there comes a point, too, where you hope it's a little fun, too, and you just kind of enjoy the moment and play a little bit out there.”

Stanley has been trying to heed his coach’s advice. He has been a little quicker to smile, and was even a little playful with the media after Saturday’s 23-19 home win over previously undefeated Minnesota.

Ferentz called that “a breakthrough moment” for Stanley.

But that will be tested Saturday when Stanley swarms at Kinnick for the final time. He knows his mother, Donita, will be in tears. He’s not sure how he’ll react.

“There’s two ways that you can look at it. You can try to be as stoic as possible. Or you can let it out and get it over with,” Stanley said.

“And re-focus on the game.”

Maybe Stanley hasn't changed all that much.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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