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Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley is socializing with teammates more. There's a reason. Hear him explain: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

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CHICAGO — Nate Stanley was more at ease and quicker with a smile Friday in his second appearance at the Big Ten Conference's football media days.

Iowa’s senior quarterback may have even been having fun. Or he may have been just following his coach’s orders.

It’s hard to tell.

“He needs to loosen up a little bit. A good laugh would do him some good,” Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said when asked about Stanley, his stout and stoic three-year starter. “And sometimes he gets too critical of himself, I think.”

Last year, Stanley came to Chicago and put on a brave face for the media. He was polite, as always, but he is reserved by nature and that showed through.

He raised eyebrows when he acknowledged he had not ventured into downtown Iowa City since his official visit to campus while in high school. It just isn’t his scene, he said.

It’s still not. But Stanley said Friday he did make his way downtown once last winter to hang out with some teammates, to just be one of the guys.

He even conceded that he enjoyed the experience. But he hasn’t been back.

“I’d rather just sit around a fire, have some fun with some friends at somebody’s house,” Stanley said. “Less opportunity for somebody to get in trouble.”

The 6-foot-4, 243-pound native of Menomonie, Wisconsin, would rather be fishing when not playing football, in all honesty. That sounds just like former Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell.

This comparison is appropriate. Stanley and Jewell are the only two Hawkeyes to make back-to-back appearances at media days, a sign of the trust Ferentz had in them. They are about to be the only pair of three-time captains in program history, a sign of the trust their teammates had in them.

The similarities don’t end there, according to the man who coached them both.

“Neither one is what you would call overly demonstrative. They’re not overly vocal. They’re just strong, powerful presences,” Ferentz said. “And both of them were tremendously respected at a very young age in our program, to an unusual degree.”

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It’s that respect that Stanley is trying to build on heading into his final season. He’s spending more time in social situations with his teammates. He’s embracing his role as the public face of the team.

And he’s gathering his relatively untested group of receivers and making sure of one thing.

“Not leaving any ambiguity in a situation,” Stanley said. “If there is ambiguity, you have to address it and make sure it’s not there, because that’s when miscommunication happens.

“If I can tell the receivers, ‘This is what I’m doing on that play,’ and help them understand what I’m looking for, that will help them elevate their play so much,” Stanley continued.

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Stanley was asked for an example of a play that went awry because of ambiguity.

“There’s too many to count,” he said with a smile.

He was asked who his leading receiver will be this fall, after losing T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant and Nick Easley to the NFL.

Stanley smiled again.

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Toren Young and Nate Stanley both came from Wisconsin to Iowa in the recruiting class of 2016, but are 0-3 vs. the Badgers. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

“In a perfect world, all of them would have the same number of receiving yards, same number of catches, same number of touchdowns,” he said diplomatically.

Ferentz said Stanley is likely an NFL prospect. There are things he’ll need to show this year to get there.

“The biggest thing for him right now is making throws he didn’t make last year or the year before. Making decisions a little bit quicker. Just doing everything a little bit better,” Ferentz said.

“All of us can think of a couple throws that I know he’d love to have back right now. And you don’t get them back. So what do you learn from it? And then how do you make that a little better as you move forward?”

Stanley has a goal for himself: to increase his completion percentage to 65. It was 56 in his sophomore year and 59 last fall. Stanley said he needs better footwork to get to that mark, and he picked up a few pointers from his recent experience learning from Peyton and Eli Manning.

The Hawkeyes are 17-9 in Stanley’s 26 starts. He's thrown 26 touchdowns in each of his two seasons as a starter. Iowa finished both with bowl-game victories.

He is poised to become one of the best statistical quarterbacks in program history. He enters the season fourth all-time with those 52 scoring passes. He is ninth with 5,351 passing yards.

Stanley said his legacy would be cemented with only one thing, though.

“Being the best leader, helping this team go to Indianapolis and win a Big Ten championship,” Stanley said. “If we can do that, I don’t care about anything else.”

He wasn’t smiling then.

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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