Joel Stave takes the practical view of an engineer when explaining his college football career, his nearly three years in the National Football League and his decision to walk away from it all.
The Greenfield native took over as the starting quarterback for the Wisconsin Badgers in the third game the team played his freshman year. The Badgers were trailing Utah State by 14 to 3 but came back to win.
Although Stave says he didn’t contribute much to that second half, the game nonetheless confirmed he would be pursuing the equivalent of a double major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Suddenly Stave, now a project manager at Miron Construction, found himself the starting quarterback in a major college football program and a student pursuing a civil engineering degree.
The combined workload was heavy, he said, but he managed to hold up under the pressure. Fortunately, Camp Randall is practically next door to Engineering Hall on campus.
“That’s kind of how I played it,” he said, “being really efficient with my time.”
Stave graduated in December 2015, and although he wasn’t drafted by an NFL team, he played for the Minnesota Vikings for half a season. From there, he moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Seattle Seahawks, the Washington Redskins, the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns.
“I got to see a little of everything,” he said. “It was a good experience.”
The good was mixed with disappointment. Although he got pre-season experience, he never played in a regular-season game.
“I rode it out as long as I could,” Stave said. “But there are a lot of other things I like to do besides watching teams practice football.”
When the Browns took a quarterback in the 2018 draft, Stave said, he decided it was time to pursue his other interests. He said he understood all along that football was temporary, offering only a small window of opportunity.
“I could feel myself falling behind whatever was next,” he said.
In May, he turned to two of his earliest interests: engineering and construction. His father, he said, is a civil engineer working for Milwaukee County, and Stave grew up watching his dad do projects around the house.
“I thought it was cool what he was able to do,” he said.
That, combined with his interest in math and science, set an early course for Stave, who knew he wanted to be an engineer even when he was at Whitnall High School in Greenfield
When he left the Browns, he said, he knew generally what he wanted to do. But he still had to figure out the details. So he talked to his dad, set up meetings with different companies and met with former professors.
He said he was interviewed by several engineering and construction companies. Miron was the standout, not least because of the contractor’s prominence in the Wisconsin industry. He started there in July and, at the age of 26, is now launched on his second career.
“I like it,” he said. “I have a lot I have to learn still.”
And there is a bright side to the change in careers: That feeling that everything could be lost at any moment has faded.
The Daily Reporter: What surprises you most about your job?
Joel Stave: I never realized how much went into the construction process. I knew I had a lot to learn, but after working at Miron Construction for a couple months, it’s even more than I thought.
TDR: Which living person do you most admire?
Stave: My dad. He’s an excellent example of work ethic.
TDR: What other job(s) did you consider trying?
Stave: I considered jobs in civil engineering for design firms.
TDR: What is your greatest fear?
Stave: My greatest fear is probably having an injury that would keep me from doing what I love to do most, which is play sports – volleyball, softball, golf, basketball, etc.
TDR: What is your greatest extravagance?
Stave: Probably golf. I’m not a big spender, but I don’t mind spending a little bit on a nice afternoon of golf on a good course.
TDR: What would you never wear?
Stave: A nose ring. Piercing your nose sounds like it would be the worst.
TDR: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Stave: I would change my flat right foot. It is flatter than my left and has led to calf, knee, hip and back pain, all primarily on my right side.
TDR: What would your colleagues be surprised to find out about you?
Stave: I guess it would probably be that I’ve never been hunting. After residing in the Appleton area for about four months now, I realize hunting is a pretty big deal around here. It’s not something that really interests me.