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Editor’s note: Second in a nine-part series looking at each Iowa football position ahead of the 2022 season.
IOWA CITY — Neither Spencer Petras nor Alex Padilla will be a fan favorite going into 2022, based on Brian Ferentz’s theory.
“Whoever ends up being the backup quarterback, they already don’t like him,” the Iowa offensive coordinator said. “The third-string guy, Joe Labas — if he’s the third-string guy on opening day, he will be the most popular guy.”
Labas is “still behind” Petras and Padilla at quarterback, head coach Kirk Ferentz said earlier this month at Iowa’s media day, and the Kids Day open practice was reflective of that.
But eventually if/when it’s Labas’ turn at quarterback, the redshirt freshman from Brecksville, Ohio, could bring something different to the quarterback position than Hawkeye fans have seen in recent years.
The self-described dual-threat quarterback is listed at 6-foot-4 — closer to Petras’ 6-5 than Padilla’s 6-1. But at 207 pounds, he has significantly more mobility than the 231-pound Petras, who once said “I'm not like Lamar Jackson back there.”
“I like to run,” Labas said. “Obviously I’d love to pass the rock, but when it needs to be, I will run.”
His roommate in fall camp, Petras, is looking forward to seeing a fully-developed Labas under center after he gets more comfortable with the offense.
“Always the challenge for young quarterbacks anywhere, but especially in this system, is just learning everything and getting comfortable,” Petras said. “When that happens, I’m excited to watch what he can do.”
Brian Ferentz said he’s been “very pleased” with Labas’ development.
“I’ve seen Joe improve since we started working together — seen him improve on a daily basis,” said Ferentz, who switched from coaching tight ends to coaching quarterbacks in the offseason. “That’s really all you can ask for.”
As Petras and Padilla have competed for the No. 1 spot, Labas has had the obvious disadvantage of spending dramatically less time in Iowa’s system.
Petras is in his fifth year on campus and has started 19 games. Padilla is in his fourth year on campus and has started three games. Labas, on the other hand, is in his second year on campus and hasn’t seen game action yet.
“(Labas) doesn’t have the wealth of experience that those guys have,” Ferentz said. “Having that experience is a huge advantage.”
Ferentz’s goal for Labas is to “close the gap.”
“Every day, close the gap,” Ferentz repeated. “Close the gap. Try to just take that advantage and shrink it a little bit.”
Petras has seen some of his work to close that gap while rooming with Labas in fall camp.
“He studies the playbook every night,” Petras said.
Labas said his work on the scout team in 2021 during his redshirt year was a “good learning process” and a fun one, too.
“It was also a lot of fun because it’s not really like Iowa’s offense, obviously,” Labas said. “You got to do other schools’ offenses. … Trying to do as good as possible for the defense to give them a good look.”
If something happened to Petras and Padilla, Labas is “comfortable Coach Brian (Ferentz) would know which plays” to call. That being said, he’ll take another year to focus on development.
His goal in 2022 is to “just learn as much as possible,” Labas said.
“The playbook — it’s a lot when I first got here,” Labas said. “It’s getting better. … I’ve learned a lot, but there’s still room for sure. There’s still things I need to touch up on and get used to.”
Petras and Padilla have helped him learn to “command the huddle.”
“When I first got here, I was a little quiet, a little shy,” Labas said. “Coach Ferentz, he got on me for that, too. … With being quarterback, you’ve got to do that.”
Labas holds the two quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart in high esteem despite the negativity about the position from many fans following a season where Iowa completed just 55 percent of its passes.
“They’re both hard workers for sure,” Labas said. “They’re very smart. They know what they’re doing out there. … For me, they check all the boxes. I don’t get a lot of the slander that fans and other people have. I don’t understand it.”
Labas might not understand it, but once he takes the field, he could be subject to it.
“The most popular guy of the fans is obviously the guy who hasn’t played,” Padilla said. “Once you play, you’re kind of cut off a little bit.”
Before then, Labas appears to have some more time as No. 3 on the depth chart, No. 5 on the field and No. 1 in many fans’ hearts.
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