Stave gets ready to shoulder the load for Falcons
Senior quarterback has Whitnall poised for successful 2010
Greenfield — At 6 feet 5 inches tall, Joel Stave stands with shoulders slightly more elevated above the rest of his Whitnall football teammates.
On those broad shoulders rests the weight of the Falcons' 2010 expectations.
In his first season as the Falcons starter, Stave led Whitnall to a breakthrough season that ended with a second consecutive playoff berth.
The Falcons have bigger goals in their crosshairs this fall. Among them are winning a conference title for the first time since 2000 and making it past the first round of the WIAA playoffs for the first time since 1998.
"That's our plan, to try to win," Stave said. "I think our team looks pretty good. We lost a lot of talent from last year but the way people are working hard, we make up for it well."
Whitnall coach Rob Leboeuf said playoff victories and a conference title would be nice but added neither would define 2010 as a success.
"Our players feel we can compete for the conference title, but we don't really talk about that much," Leboeuf said. "We worry about getting better every day in practice, every repetition. We really focus on the process of being the best that we can be day in and day out. It doesn't matter to us, the outcome of games. At the end of the year, we'll worry about what our record is.."
But with defending Woodland Conference Black Division champion Eisenhower stripped of loads of graduating talent, and Stave, the top-rated senior quarterback in the state by wissports.net leading the way, both goals are possible, right?
"It's realistic," Leboeuf said. "I'm sure every team in the state right now has a goal of winning the conference. Once you do that, or if you are unsuccessful, you re-evaluate your goals and you say, 'Let's make the playoffs.' Once that's accomplished, you say, 'Let's win a playoff game.' That's our goal every year, number one to win a conference title and number two, win a playoff game. We don't like to talk about that here, but it's realistic for us to make the playoffs, it's realistic for us to be in the conference title race and it's realistic for us to win a playoff game if we can be fortunate enough to get that far."
If the Falcons reach the playoffs for a third consecutive season, it will largely be because of Stave.
As a junior, he passed for 2,155 yards with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. He was a first-team all-Woodland Black choice, made the NOW All-Suburban Team and earned all-state honorable mention recognition. Two of his top three receivers have graduated - only senior Ben Schaefer remains - as has Whitnall's all-time leading rusher Sean Graham and all-state honorable mention lineman Scott Erickson. But Stave still expects to deliver.
"In terms of the pressure, I don't think he has any," Leboeuf said. "He's been very even-keeled ever since he was in middle school. He plays the game having fun. He enjoys being with his teammates, he enjoys competing. He's an intense competitor, which if you see him, you wouldn't think that because he's always got a little bit of a smile on his face.
"The pressure is felt from the other guys. His teammates understand his level of play, his level of commitment, his work ethic. The pressure's on them, I think, to meet his expectations. They don't want to the guy that lets him down and drops a pass or misses a block or misses a tackle or a kick that could potentially cost us the game."
Leboeuf said Stave has recovered from a knee injury that caused him to end his junior basketball season after just one game and that he is drawing interest from more than half of the Big Ten schools, including Wisconsin, but has yet to receive a scholarship offer. The assumption is that smaller schools have not bothered to offer him anything because they assume he'll land at a big school, and that the bigger schools are just waiting to see how his senior season unfolds.
Stave said he's trying not to think about it too much.
"I just try to prepare for every team we play, see what kind of defenses they run and what we can do to beat that and hopefully get myself ready to play some good games," he said. "I was more worried about (scholarships) this summer, but now that this season has started, I've set that aside and started focusing on my team and what I'm doing here.."
(all games 7 p.m. unless noted)
AUG. 27: vs. Pius XI
SEPT. 3: at New Berlin West
SEPT. 11: at St. Thomas More (St. Francis), 1 p.m.
SEPT. 17: vs. Wauwatosa West
SEPT. 24: vs. Greenfield
OCT. 1: at New Berlin Eisenhower
OCT. 8: at Greendale
OCT. 15: vs. South Milwaukee
OCT. 20: vs. Brown Deer, 6:30 p.m.
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