The past, present and future of Joel Stave all figured into a special welcome-home ceremony on March 10 at Whitnall High School.
The ceremony featured plenty of memories from his football career, both in high school as an all-state quarterback and in college as the University of Wisconsin's all-time leader in victories with 31. Those highlights were shared in a video package put together by Whitnall students and in stories told by his former coaches.
Stave, who presented the school with a signed and framed No. 2 Badgers jersey, was shown that he is considered something of a conquering hero by his alma mater. He received a warm greeting, with plenty of appreciation and congratulations from all the attendees in a packed gymnasium.
There was also some anticipation of what lies ahead for Stave, who is hoping to be chosen in the NFL draft this spring.
"It was a lot of fun," Stave said after the ceremony. "I'm really honored to have this opportunity to do this. It was cool to come back and see everybody and have a day like this. Seeing the video and seeing clips from high school, which I haven't seen in a long time, it brings back really fond memories."
Stave's father Karl added, "We're proud of him, but it's also very neat to see the school district honor him and recognize him for his accomplishments, not only at Wisconsin but here (at Whitnall), especially his academic achievements."
Whitnall quarterback Joel Stave throws past New Berlin Eisenhower's Zach Tranchita in 2009. Staff photo by Peter Zuzga.
Stave is a competitor
Karl said the one of the keys to his son's success is that he is a competitor.
"He will go about preparing himself the best he can, no matter what it is," Karl said. "He didn't listen to the naysayers much, but to get the respect from the players, coaches and teachers was his motivation."
In his comments during the ceremony, Stave had said, "This means a lot to me because Whitnall means a lot to me. There was nothing more fun that a high school basketball game or football game, and I want to thank Whitnall for the opportunity."
Stave also had some advice for the students who filled the stands.
"You should pick whatever you love to do and jump into it with both feet," he said. "Don't worry about what people say or think about you. If I had been concerned about everything that was said about me (at Wisconsin), I wouldn't have been able to do my job."
Stave was praised by all of the speakers at the hourlong event, starting with master of ceremonies Vince Vitrano of WTMJ-TV, who said, "When (a notable person) comes from your school, you have great pride in saying you went to high school with that person, and that feeling is even stronger when that person is also a good guy."
School superintendent Lowell Holtz said, "This day is about someone who epitomizes the qualities of Whitnall High School and what a successful Whitnall graduate looks like."
Holtz said one of his special memories of Stave came after the Badgers were badly beaten by Ohio State in the 2014 Big Ten Conference Championship Game.
"I have never seen anyone get hit so hard so many times," Holtz said. "It is impossible to describe the physical beating he took, but he just kept going. Vince Lombardi said it's not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up again. Vince would have been proud of Joel on that day. He demonstrated great heart and leadership."
'Joel Stave Day'
Greenfield Mayor Mike Neitzke was next, reading a proclamation that declared March 10 "Joel Stave Day" in his city and adding, "It gave me great pride to watch a UW game and say, 'that guy is from Greenfield.'"
Whitnall strength and powerlifting coach R.G. Luckow said Stave simply got things done with a passionate pursuit of goals and a great work ethic.
"I was talking with Joel once about his career at UW, and he told me that it was not always fun, it was not always what he expected, but it was exactly the way he wanted his college career to go," Luckow said.
Stave's high school football coach, Rob Leboeuf, also addressed Stave's work habits.
"He made everything look easy, so some people might have thought he wasn't working that hard," the coach said, "but I can tell you he has a phenomenal work ethic. He is also really positive with his teammates and leads by example in everything he does."
He also said that he once asked Stave why he chose to become a preferred walk-on at UW rather than accept the security of a full-ride scholarship at Western Michigan University.
He said Stave told him, "Nothing is certain, everything is open, and that's what I wanted."
Stave said he enjoyed his time at Wisconsin.
"It was good," he said. "It wasn't always perfect, but it wasn't just me. The whole program, at times, was not always perfect. We changed coaches, we changed offensive systems, things like that, but that's the nature of the game. You just kind of have to roll with the punches. All in all, it was a tremendous opportunity and a great experience."
Looks toward NFL
Now Stave will turn his attention toward the possibility of being drafted into the NFL.
"I've talked to a number of NFL people," he said. "I thought things went well at the combine and at the (Wisconsin) pro day. Now you kind of wait around for visits and things like that. When the end of April hits, that's when you really get to figure things out."
Karl Stave added, "I'm just wishing him the best and, as with all our kids, I am supportive of him and what he wants to do. If he gets picked, great; if not, I think he's set up to be successful in whatever he does."