This past summer in Iowa City, Ricky Stanzi didn't have a job.
Sure, he had the summer workouts and all the Iowa quarterback stuff that goes along with that, but that filled up only so many hours of the day. And yes, he walked into what would be his third season as Iowa's starter. Yes, he had a sterling 18-4 record as a starter and basked in the "Love it or leave it" quote coming off the Orange Bowl victory.
Still, no job. Well, except Iowa quarterback. And let's not kid ourselves. That's a job.
Video study was always a major part of Stanzi' s routine. This summer, he earned his black belt in it.
"He came to us with his requests as if he had a plan for what he was looking for and what he wanted to get out of the video-watching experience," Iowa video coordinator Matt Engelbert said. "In May, we made every game our 2010 opponents played from the previous year available for him to study during May, June, July and August."
That's carried over to the fall and now you see the results.
Stanzi has gone from unsafe at a lot of speeds -- as last season's 15 interceptions can attest -- to a football graduate student.
"He has a parking spot. I'm joking," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said with a laugh. "That's an NCAA violation."
Through six games, Stanzi has completed 99 of 145 (68.3 percent) for 1,474 yards, 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions. His 180.5 pass efficiency leads the Big Ten and is third in the nation.
Stanzi has the physical tools. He stands nearly 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds. His arm is accurate and strong. He moves well and is a terrific passer on the run.
You don't want to make too much out of his diligence with the video projector, but then you hear him talk about it and you know it's crucial part of his routine.
It's where he finds comfort and confidence.
"When you get here, so much information is thrown your way as a football player,” said Stanzi, whose record as a starter is 23-5 (13-2 at Kinnick and 12-4 in the Big Ten). “I remember [offensive coordinator Ken] coach O’Keefe telling me on my high school visit, 'When you leave here, you’ll know football.'
“He wasn’t lying. I’ve learned so much about the game of football, the checks, the fronts and little things that people don’t even look at. You’re football IQ jumps a little bit each year. I think that’s natural if you’re doing the right things as a program and watching film in the offseason and paying attention during the week."
This summer, he took the film to a practicum level.
Stanzi is so versed in opposing defenses, he's "that guy." He's the kid in the front of the class who blurts out the answer before the question is halfway out of the teacher's mouth.
"He's at the point right now that sometimes at practice if one of the scout team guys lines up incorrectly, he'll tell the guy how far he's supposed to be shading on the nose man or whatever and move him over while we're getting everybody else lined up," said O'Keefe, who's also Iowa's quarterbacks coach. "He has that kind of knowledge and experience right now where he can move people to the places where they need to be on the scout team. He's pretty advanced in that particular regard."
Stanzi's less-than-taxing class schedule this fall -- he'll graduate in December with an interdepartmental general studies degree -- has allowed him to carry it through.
"He’s drawing Spiderman right now in one of his classes or his only class," wide receiver Colin Sandeman joked.
Actually, Stanzi has an art class and . . . Well, let him tell it.
"I had an art class, ‘Alcohol on your college experience’ and ‘Making a vocational and educational choice,’ ” Stanzi said. “So, nothing too strenuous.”
Kidding aside, Sandeman loves that he has a quarterback who can work a projector remote like a juggler.
"You can’t stay in there with him," Sandeman said. "You get to like two hours and you’re just like, 'Rick, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to go, like, do something.' He can just stay in there for hours."
Stanzi credited David Raih, a first-year graduate assistant with Iowa who played QB for the Hawkeyes from 1999-2002, for his increased focus. From the sounds of it, there's a giant difference between "watching video" and "watching a game." Mostly, it's intense focus on every detail with a critical eye.
"It’s easy to stop and start watching the game and the ball and you’re not even watching what you need to watch," Stanzi said. "You really need to be in tune when you get into that film room.
"It’s definitely a mental exercise. You put the phone away. All the distractions and anything that can take your focus away, and you’re very critical with your eye and you kind of train yourself to do that."
Stanzi watches for scheme, of course. Following one of Raih's suggestions, he's also started watching games instead of pure "cut-ups," specific situations usually based on down and distance. He believes it helps him get a feel for what kind of defense will be called in a particular situation. He's also started keying into personnel.
"Personnel is huge," Stanzi said. "It’s not something I watched for in the past. I never worried about it until almost a day before the game. 'Oh yeah, what are their numbers again?' You’re just so worried what their schemes are. But now, personnel hints at a lot of things defenses do and I’m surprised I never focused on it before. It’s been a huge tip in picking things up."
This begs the question, does Stanzi watch everything? Yes, Stanzi watches everything. He's often the last one to turn the lights off at the Hayden Fry Football Complex, with the possible exception of the offensive line, which leaves a pile of mopeds for Stanzi to climb on his way out late at night.
Stanzi will drag backup QBs James Vandenberg and John Wienke with him. Fullback Brett Morse, Stanzi's roommate, also gets sucked in.
Not really sucked in. It's one of those deals where teammates see a fifth-year senior quarterback putting that much time into video, they become inspired. Or, at the very least, they feel as though they need to keep up.
"You know you can't keep up with Rick," senior tight end Allen Reisner said. "It makes you want to try. It's a great message to send the team."
The goal is comfort and confidence. If that takes 20 to 30 hours, in the QB classroom, clicking away at a projector shooting out digitized video on a screen in a dark room, so be it.
“You never want to leave without being sure about something, so you stay as long as you need to," Stanzi said. "Sometimes you watch something too many times, but I'd rather watch something too many times. I'd rather watch it too many times and have the right look than not understand it.
"In an average week . . . I don't really keep track of the hours. We're here everyday and we're watching at least three to four hours of film on our own as players. I think that's what it takes to be comfortable. The main thing is you want to be comfortable and you want to be confident.
"That’s how you play your best. The only way to do that is to watch as much film as possible and to watch everything and to know you’ve seen it all. Now, you can just go out and play.”
The irony is Stanzi has class called "Making a vocational and educational choice." And that he's taking it this semester.
Vocational and educational.
MORE notes taken for this story:
Stanzi was asked how his football IQ has grown from 2009 to now. Stanzi has always been a winner, his 22 wins are No. 8 among active FBS QBs, but there were rough moments in ’09, a season in which he threw 15 interceptions.
Now, Stanzi is third in the nation in pass efficiency and one of only two QBs in the country who average more than 10 yards per pass attempt.
“I guess at times [his football IQ last season] might’ve been in the single digits, right? You could put it wherever you want it,” he said.
Stanzi doesn’t think his knowledge of the game has changed as much as it’s been grown and refined and is now fully powered by five seasons in video study.
“When you get here, so much information is thrown your way as a football player that you don’t have presented to you in high school because you don’t need to be presented with it,” said Stanzi, whose record as a starter is 22-5 (13-2 at Kinnick and 11-4 in the Big Ten). “I remember coach O’Keefe telling me on my high school visit, when you leave here, you’ll know football.
“He wasn’t lying. I’ve learned so much about the game of football, the checks, the fronts and little things that people don’t even look at. You’re football IQ jumps a little bit each year. I think that’s natural if you’re doing the right things as a program and watching film in the offseason and paying attention during the week.
“You’re going to continually get better at that. It’s kind of natural and goes with anything in life. The more you do it, the better you’ll going to get at it. We would hope that our seniors would have the best football IQ you could have on this team. From there, you can teach the younger guys and they’ll kind of get it. And when they get older, they can pass it down.”
I think it's kind of a decision where the more film you watch, the more times you've seen something. Some of the quarterbacks in the NFL, they've just seen it more than anybody else has. It's become so natural to them. They don't even have to worry about the physical part of it. That part is just taken over. They're reacting and not even thinking anymore. That's what you want to try to do. That's why you watch film. There's a reason you watch it. Not to see what their uniforms are like, it's to see the look before it happens, so when you're out there, you're just verifying. You're not seeing it for the first time. This is what that is, I remember that. Now, let's go ahead and run the play that we're supposed to. I think the more film you watch, the higher your IQ will be with football.
Stanzi doesn’t get too deeply into the amount of time he’s spent in Iowa’s video bays (“We’re here everyday and we’re probably watching about three to four hours of film,” he said). He even said the offensive linemen, as a group, are the last ones out, with their mopeds piled close to the doors of the Hayden Fry Complex.
“There are a lot of nights here where we’ll stay until 10 or 11,” Stanzi said. “You never want to leave without being sure about something, so you stay as long as you need to. Sometimes you watch something too many times, but I'd rather watch something too many times. I'd rather watch it too many times and have the right look than not understand it. In an average week . . . I don't really keep track of the hours. We're here everyday and we're watching at least three to four hours of film I think on our own as players. I think that's what it takes to be comfortable. The main thing is you want to be confident and you want to be comfortable. That’s how you play your best. The only way to do that is to watch as much film as possible and to watch everything and to know you’ve seen it all. Now, you can just go out and play.”
Vandenberg, Morse Wienke.
I had art class, ‘Alcohol on your college experience’ and ‘Making a vocational educational choice,’ ” Stanzi said Tuesday. “So, nothing too strenuous.”
In other words, it’s not exactly taxing, which is OK. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Stanzi put in the video time even when he had a full class schedule.
“This year has given me a better opportunity to watch film and get to know what’s going on,” Stanzi said.
More on that later.
Stanzi had more thoughts on his academics.
“Interdepartmental, it’s like general studies,” he said. “It means you don’t know what you’re doing, basically. It means you’re not smart enough to get into the business school is what I think it means. That’s how I looked at it.
“That’s what my advisor says. ‘Yeah, you can’t quite get into business school, here’s another option.’ OK, tell me how it is. I’m not smart enough. I understand.”
Knows football, do anything with that? -- That would be probably my main thing I'd want to do is coach football. I don't know when, but at some point I think that would be a blast, to coach and pass your knowledge on. To help young kids get better, whatever it may be. You learn so much here and you know so much about the sport when you leave, it's kind of natural to want to teach it if you know something so well. -- All those hours, you want them to pay off.
The one from yesterday:
The hours are always there. There’s always going to be time to watch film. When I had 12 hours, it was more of a jam-packed schedule, now I can be more relaxed with it. Now there’s time to watch more film. But I also think it’s more ‘how’ you watch film. You can put in a good hour and get more out of it than someone who sits there for three hours. I’ve learned a lot from the coaching staff. I’ve learned a lot from new GA Dave Raih, who’s working with the offensive line. He played quarterback here. In the summer, he taught me a lot about watching film and what to specifically look for. I’ve taken that with me and tried to use it and pass it on to other guys on the team. Having a more critical eye when you’re watching. It’s easy to stop and start watching the game and the ball and you’re not even watching what you need to watch. You really need to be in tune when you get into that film room. It’s definitely a mental exercise. You put the phone away. All the distractions and anything that can take your focus away, and you’re very critical with your eye and you kind of train yourself to do that.
When to say when – I usually watch everything. So, usually when I watch everything and I feel confident about it, there’s nothing really else to do. – I might be on a trip and get to the hotel and there’s still something I’m not sure on. It’s really about how comfortable you are and how confident you are. If you feel confident and comfortable, then you don’t see the need to watch it again because you already know it. But if you have a question about it, you can pop the film back on and get it answered.
How do you get that feeling – It comes with confidence. If you’re feeling good about it, you know. If you’re not, your body isn’t going to lie to you and you’ll go ahead and watch more film.
Scheme and personnel – Everything. Personnel is huge. It’s not something I watched for in the past. I never worried about it until almost a day before the game. Oh yeah, what are their numbers again? You’re just so worried what their schemes are. But now, personnel hints at a lot of things defenses do and I’m surprised I never focused on it before. It’s been a huge tip in picking things up. And then watching games instead of cut ups has been a new thing that I took from Dave. He thought watching games gives you a better idea of what teams are calling. What defensive coordinators are trying to do. Those are helpful. It’s nice watching film with a different eye and pick up little hints because that what it’s all about, learning the best way to be critical with every single thing you’re doing.
You can’t, you can’t stay in there with him. You get to like two hours and you’re just like, Rick, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to go, like, do something. He can just stay in there for hours. I guess it helps, because he’s only taking six hours of class this semester. I’m taking a bunch of classes trying to graduate in May. He’s taking . . . he’s drawing Spiderman right now in one of his classes or his only class. – That class, I think you just have to write your resume down and that’s it and print it out. I don’t know what he’s resume would be, anyway. --
Certainly he prepares probably better than any guy we've had, spends an enormous amount of time on that, -- He's at the point right now that sometimes at practice if one of the scout team guys lines up incorrectly, he's there trying to -- he'll tell the guy how far he's supposed to be shading on the nose man or whatever and move him over while we're getting everybody else lined up. He has that kind of knowledge and experience right now where he can move people to the places where they need to be on the scout team. He's pretty advanced in that particular regard.Actually it's interesting, he's probably processing faster this year than he was a year ago. But I think he might be seeing things a little bit different. You know, it's really what he studies on tape, what he sees before the ball is snapped and then as the ball is snapped and how everybody moves to get him to where he's going to go. -- Well, I mean, he just studies the looks. He studies the tape. He's got himself a little notebook that he's got everything jammed into, and he's pretty meticulous about those kinds of things. He's always got a plan, even for, hey, how am I going to improve this week. I've got these three things I'm going to work on. I've got to get straightened out. But he knows how to study the tape, where he usually starts with that secondary, and then depending on what we're looking for, he'll go from there. He even has come into me on -- I'm trying to remember if it was Sunday's -- no, it was a Monday around noon, and we usually don't have our offensive staff meeting until around 3:00 where we begin to start to -- we watch all the tape, then we get together as a staff and start to input the 1st down game plan in the run and pass. But Rick would come in and say, hey, can you tell me what formations we're using this week? And I would say to him, well, that's why we're going into this meeting right now, because we're not quite sure. Here's an idea of what we might be using, basically because -- and then he goes on to say, because I don't want to waste any time looking at these formations we're not going to use, because each personnel group has two to three, sometimes four formations to it, and it helps if you can narrow it down and just study those looks. -- But he can tell by the shades of defensive linemen or where linebackers are exactly pretty easy what's going to happen and get us into better play. We have a starting point in each area, whether it's run or pass, that he works from and kind of goes from there. But he knows those guys pretty well. He knows them pretty well.