CHICAGO — This wasn’t Nate Stanley’s comfort zone — wearing his only suit, sitting in front of cameras and microphones for hours. During one of the photo shoots at these Big Ten Conference media days, Stanley was asked to scream to replicate on-field emotions.
“That was a little different at first,” the Iowa junior quarterback said Tuesday at the Downtown Chicago Marriott on the Magnificent Mile. “You just look at it and have fun with it.”
His Hawkeye teammates chosen to join him — fifth-year senior defensive linemen Parker Hesse and Matt Nelson — each snickered when asked about Stanley’s excitement level in coming to the big city.
“He doesn’t like talking about himself,” Nelson said.
But, seriously ... he had to be a little excited, right?
“Who would know either way?” Hesse cracked.
"He’s quiet. He’s stoic," Hesse said. "That’s one thing you respect about him. ... When things are hitting the fan, he’s going to be the same guy."
So it's actually that low-key, humble personality that has thrust Stanley into the spotlight. Just the second junior in Kirk Ferentz’s 20 years at Iowa to be brought as a Big Ten media-day representative — an honor normally reserved for proven seniors — there’s no doubt Stanley belongs here.
Even he admitted the meaning of his presence in Chicago.
“It’s an awesome experience,” Stanley said. “It’s very flattering to think that Coach Ferentz thinks of me as a leader of the team and as a face of the team that will represent Iowa well.”
This 20-year-old has checked every box with his teammates and coaches.
Growing comfort levels in leadership and command of the offense.
And just being a nice guy that everyone likes.
“In the things that count, he’s there. He’s solid. He’s so solid,” Ferentz said. “He’s mentally tough. He cares so much about his performance. He cares a lot about his teammates’ performance. He cares about them as people. All those things that people respond to, he possesses them.
“Those things, you can’t fake. It’s either there or it’s not.”
That’s the type of stuff teammates would say about C.J. Beathard toward the end of his Iowa career — into Year Four and Year Five. Beathard led the Hawkeyes to a historic 12-0 regular season in 2015 at football’s most important position.
Stanley, by contrast, is just starting Year Three of the Hawkeye program. And he’s on his second offensive coordinator. Yet he’s seemingly ahead of his time, even ahead of the Beathard growth pace.
It makes sense.
A guy that doesn’t talk a lot … thinks a lot.
Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz will sometimes stop Stanley in the hallways back at the Iowa Football Performance Center with an idea of something he might have seen on film.
Hey, you think this might work, Nate?
Stanley doesn’t always agree.
The Hawkeyes love getting that kind of feedback from their quarterback. It shows he’s gaining a mastery over the concepts of the offense.
Impressive growth for a guy who just 11 months ago was still battling Tyler Wiegers to be Iowa’s 2017 starting QB.
"It's light years ahead of where I was at the beginning of last year,” Stanley said, “as far as knowing how to prepare and look at film."
Some of Iowa’s coaches took an offseason trip to New England to learn how the NFL’s most dominant franchise is so effective on offense, no matter the defense.
There are two main reasons for that.
One, Kirk Ferentz spoke Tuesday about the way New England uses its tight ends, how the Bill Belichick system is all about finding mismatches. Iowa has two mismatch tight ends in Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson.
Two, the Patriots have Tom Brady — who happens to be the quarterback Stanley said he's studied the most in how to command an offense.
“He does such a great job at the line of scrimmage directing what he wants to be done,” Stanley said. “What he does before the play even starts — the knowledge of what he has of what the defense is going to do before the play even starts — goes back to the preparation and the film study.”
Stanley sheepishly recalled moments early last season when he came off the field with his head spinning — as he learned what teams would throw his way. Every week, he grew a little. He also made mistakes. He ended up throwing 26 touchdowns against six interceptions in his first season as a college starter.
And now, here he was, on Michigan Avenue in one of the world’s most iconic cities, discussing the ribeye steak he savored Monday night.
Stanley has a lot of room for improvement. He knows that. At 6-foot-5, 242 pounds, though, he's got prototypical quarterback size. A guy who could've probably gotten looks as a professional baseball pitcher (Stanley threw 92 mph in high school) has the big-time power behind his throws. And with a year of ups and downs under his belt, he's gained key experience.
“He’s got a quiet confidence about himself," Nelson said. "He’s got tremendous arm strength. And he’s a very intelligent kid."
If you're a Hawkeye fan, it's a combination worth getting excited about.
Because in bringing its young quarterback to Chicago, the Hawkeyes sent a resounding message that they're ready to follow Stanley's lead.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.