Joe LaBuda will be at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday afternoon, watching two ranked teams and wishing being a fan was a little less complicated.
LaBuda, the longtime coach at Menomonie High School, will be cheering for the University of Wisconsin football team. He’ll also be cheering for one of his former players, Iowa sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley.
“It’s going to be weird,” LaBuda said of watching the No. 6 Badgers (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten Conference) play the No. 25 Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3). “I’ll probably be hoping for Nate to do well but hoping for the Badgers to win. It’s a hard thing.”
It’d be so much easier for his former coach if Stanley were playing for his homestate team, which leads to a question LaBuda has heard over and over the past two seasons: Why is Stanley at Iowa and not UW?
The answer is rather simple, according to LaBuda.
“The only reason he’s not a Badger,” LaBuda said, “is Gary Andersen.”
LaBuda said he did everything he could to try to get Andersen and his staff interested in Stanley. But Andersen, UW’s coach during the 2013 and ’14 seasons, wanted a dual-threat quarterback who could run a spread attack out of the shotgun formation.
According to LaBuda, Stanley felt ignored when he attended a UW summer camp.
“He felt like when he was at Wisconsin, he was just kind of thrown in with 400 kids and nobody paid attention to him hardly,” LaBuda said. “It was very obvious that there wasn’t much interest.”
One coach who was very interested in Stanley was Paul Chryst. In fact, Stanley’s first scholarship offer came from Chryst, who was at Pittsburgh at the time.
Chryst liked what he saw on film and offered Stanley following his sophomore season at Menomonie. At 6-foot-5 with great arm strength, Stanley was a perfect fit for the pro-style system Chryst runs.
Michigan State and Stanford also showed interest in Stanley, a three-sport star at Menomonie. But Stanley was eager to end the recruiting process quickly and orally committed to Iowa in November of 2014, shortly after his junior season ended.
Less than a month later, Andersen left for Oregon State and UW hired Chryst to replace him. Chryst tried making another run at Stanley, but Stanley remained committed to the Hawkeyes.
“Paul worked hard on him,” said LaBuda, who has led Menomonie to five WIAA state titles. “But Paul also understood that he had given a commitment to Iowa and I think he respected Nate for that. He did everything he possibly could. It was a timing thing.”
Stanley, in his first season as a starter after being the primary backup to C.J. Beathard as a true freshman in 2016, has thrown for 1,929 yards with 22 touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s coming off a five-touchdown performance during a 55-24 victory over Ohio State.
“I think he’s done a nice job of continuing to grow and develop,” Chryst said of Stanley, who also had five touchdown passes in an overtime win at Iowa State earlier this season. “It looks to me like he’s playing with confidence. He’s tough, he’s a really good quarterback.”
LaBuda has known that for years. Stanley grew up around the Menomonie program because his father, Jay, is on LaBuda’s staff. Stanley was one of the team’s ball boys as a kid with a group of friends that included UW redshirt freshman linebacker Mason Stokke.
Stanley went on to become a three-sport star at Menomonie. He was a four-year starter in basketball and is the program’s all-time leading scorer. In baseball, he was a pitcher with a fastball that sometimes touched 90 mph.
“He could have been a Division I athlete in any one of the three sports he played,” LaBuda said.
And, yes, Stanley could have been a Badger.
“But that’s water under the dam,” LaBuda said.
“He’s having a great experience at Iowa.”