Quarterbacks: Stanzi rockets ahead

BY RYAN YOUNG | AUGUST 20, 2009 7:05 AM

If Iowa’s preseason quarterback derby could be compared to the 2008 Olympic 100-meter dash, Ricky Stanzi would be Usain Bolt.

No, the 6-4 junior isn’t planning to ditch his playbook for a pair of track shoes anytime soon. But like Bolt, he’s well ahead of the competition.

Those around him have said the strides Stanzi has made over the last six and a half months have undoubtedly solidified him as the Hawkeyes’ leading QB candidate, with redshirt freshmen John Wienke and James Vandenberg battling for the backup job.

“He’s worked harder than anybody I have ever played with in my life this past off-season,” Iowa junior receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos said at the team’s media day on Aug. 7. “Even the transition from his first couple of years to this last off-season has been something I’ve never seen before.

“I think it was just a matter of him realizing the situation that he was in. He has put himself in position to be a starter in this league, and a very good one. He’s gotten faster, he’s put on more muscle, he’s cut back on the social life, and it was contagious for me.”

Indeed, despite going 0-for-4 with 13 yards rushing in his first collegiate game in 2007, Stanzi’s stats in 2008 certainly indicate he can pitch pigskins just as well as anybody in the Big Ten.

His 134.8 pass efficiency rating ranked fourth in the conference and 40th nationally by season’s end. Meanwhile, his 14 touchdowns, 59.1 completion percentage, and 1,956 total passing yards were on par for the league.

So what spurred this radical transformation from second-string no-hoper to Hawkeye headman? The soon-to-be 22-year-old said he’s just another year wiser.

“Each guy has to act according to his role and his job,” said Stanzi, who was recently named to the Manning Award Watch List. “I’m a year older and have a year of experience, so there’s no excuse for me to make the same mistakes I made last year. There’s no excuse for why I shouldn’t be a better player.”

While Stanzi’s mistakes will be significantly more visible without former running back Shonn Greene, his coaches aren’t too worried about his progress slipping.

In fact, had it not been for a shoulder injury toward the end of camp last summer, Stanzi may have been Iowa’s starting signal-caller heading into the 2008 season rather than departed Hawkeye Jake Christensen, who is vying for a starting gig this season at Eastern Illinois.

“A year ago, he had made it an even race coming into the spring and got banged up at the end of summer workouts, and that’s the kind of thing that held him back,” Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe said. “For him to improve, what he needs to continue to do is demand a little bit more from himself, be able to focus on perfecting little things, whether it’s ball placement, balance at his feet — little things that every guy has to do and just execute on a more consistent basis.”

But in terms of leadership, O’Keefe has seen Stanzi relish the opportunity to stand out as a model teammate.

“Having the trust of your teammates is a huge factor that allows you to become a great leader,” he said. “The best way to get the trust is you have to provide the example that everybody is looking for — on and off the field, in the weight room, during every little drill, whatever it may be.

“His example really has elevated our performance level a lot of times, obviously in games, but certainly in drills where we’re trying to get better and young guys are trying to improve.”

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