Joel Stave has taken a long, winding road to the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine. The Wisconsin Badgers quarterback started as a walk-on in Madison, took over the starting job as a redshirt freshman, lost it as a Junior, and finally earned it back again later that year. All told, Stave became the winningest quarterback in Badgers history, but he leaves behind a legacy that will be remembered not as much for his successes as his perceived limitations.
However, Stave is indeed here in Indianapolis for the Combine, and not only is he participating, but he was asked to be a "thrower" - one of the quarterbacks who throw passes for running backs, receivers, and tight ends in those players' receiving drills.
When Stave got that opportunity, he knew exactly who to call: Packers quarterback and former Badger signal-caller Scott Tolzien.
"I talked to Scott Tolzien a little bit, because I'm a thrower this week and he did that five years ago," Stave said. "I just kind of asked him (about) his experience doing that, positives and negatives, that sort of thing. He had good things to say about it, just said it's going to be a long week, just be ready for it and have fun with it."
Those opportunities to show off his arm are in addition to the standard drills that all quarterbacks will undergo, and Stave sees them as just another chance to show NFL teams that he belongs: "Any time you get a chance to throw in front of NFL personnel it's a good idea to take it. I figure three extra days of just throwing here is going to be good for me."
This attitude is one that less-touted draft prospects must accept - when these players cannot rely solely on their tape as the very top prospects sometimes can, they must embrace every chance to show off their abilities.
Stave's pre-Combine training has paid off in his size, however. He has bulked up his 6'5" frame from the 220 pounds he was listed at this fall to 236 during weigh-ins today, and he says he does not feel any different with the added weight. He also said that he enjoyed the training process, as the strict regimen helped him really get his mind and body in shape for this week.
Joining him at the Combine this week is fellow Wisconsin walk-on Joe Schobert, a linebacker who was a pass-rushing terror and was named the Big Ten's linebacker of the year in 2015. Stave beamed when discussing Schobert and their shared experience as walk-ons, saying "It's something I'm really proud of." He is happy to be carrying on this walk-on tradition that has included Packers receiver Jared Abbrederis, mentioning that "Wisconsin has a tremendous tradition with walk-ons, and a lot of guys who played high school football and grew up in Wisconsin also."
Abbrederis was Stave's top target in 2012 and 2013, the quarterback's first two years as a starter. In 2013, Abbrederis hit the 1,000-yard mark, and Stave mentioned that the two still keep in touch and have seen each other play recently: "I still talk with him quite a bit, especially with him being in Green Bay now. He's been around for some games, I got a chance to see him up there one weekend."
As Stave's college career came to a close in 2015, one thing that bothered him about his final season in Madison was the Badgers' close loss to Northwestern, which saw a potential game-winning punt return called off on a fair catch call and a potential game-winning touchdown pass overruled on replay. When asked if he considered that game a win in his mind Stave laughed at first, but then admitted "Yes, I do." He expanded on that and the catch rule, saying that "I don't know how to necessarily define" what a catch is.
Whether Stave throws well enough to impress NFL scouts and whether they will consider him as a viable option at quarterback remains to be seen, but at least he has plenty of people inside the state of Wisconsin to rely on to help him through the process.