Stanley Doesn't Crack Until It's Over

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley (4) reacts with his family during Saturday's Senior Day ceremony before the game against Illinois. (Jeffrey Becker/USA Today Sports)

John Bohnenkamp

Nate Stanley lost a fight he usually wins.

“He’s usually the same guy,” Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette said of his quarterback. “No highs. No lows.”

The tears Stanley shed in the press conference after the Hawkeyes’ 19-10 win over Illinois on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium were so uncharacteristic, and even he had a soft laugh when thinking about his emotions.

It was the final home game for Stanley, a three-year starter who has always been steady.

No highs. No lows.

“That’s just Nate,” Smith-Marsette said.

“He’s very humble,” redshirt freshman wide receiver Tyrone Tracy said.

Tracy smiled when the subject of Stanley’s tears was brought up.

“Nate,” he said, “deserves someone to pat him on the back when he cries.”

Stanley threw for 308 yards in Saturday’s games. No touchdowns — the Hawkeyes had just one — and he was a little skittish, completing 18-of-35 passes with one interception.

But he controlled the game, which is what he’s always done.

“The thing I appreciate — and I think all of us appreciate, including his teammates — is just the guy he is every day,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He works extremely hard. He's a high-integrity guy. Mental toughness, physical toughness, all those things you hope you find in a football player he's got them, and he's all about the team, and he has been right from day one.

“He's going to do everything he can to help our team win ballgames. But I can't say enough about him. It's been really a pleasure and honor to work with him.”

“When you think of an Iowa Hawkeye,” kicker Keith Duncan said, “you think of Nate Stanley.”

Careers like Stanley’s have that signature play, and maybe in this game he made that play.

Stanley was blitzed by linebacker Dele Harding, who would have 12 tackles in this game. But he spun out of Harding’s grab, ran left, and threw a 40-yard pass to Smith-Marsette down the sideline.

“I just put it up, tried to let him make a play,” Stanley said. “If you can win deep, you want the most yards you can.”

“It was a layup for me, more of a half-court shot for him,” Smith-Marsette said. “Two people, in sync. Pivotal play in the game, I think.

“That’s just Nate. Tough.”

Stanley just smiled when he greeted his parents at midfield before the game. But his toughness caved in the post-game as he thought about his final time at Kinnick.

“We don’t have much time left together, but we’re going to make the most of it,” Stanley said. “It’s something I’ll never forget — the friendships, the relationships, the throwing up after workouts, everything that we go through, it sucks in the moment. But when you look through it in the big picture, look at it from hindsight, it’s hard to keep your emotions in check.”

So he let them go on Saturday.

Why not?

Asked what he has learned in his time with the Hawkeyes, Stanley said, “I think just the mental toughness, the desire and will to do something. Like you said, there are tough times when you truly love something. I think I’ve found my passion for football. When you go through the ups and downs, when you can stick with it, to continue to fight and give it your all, no matter the situation, I wouldn’t say you much about yourself, but you find out what your passion is. The game of football is something I’m passionate about.”

Passion was in those Stanley tears. He wasn’t about to hold them back.

“I don’t think there’s a way to explain it,” he said. “To sit back and reflect on some of this stuff, it’s some of the best memories I’ve ever had.”