Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras put to test early in starting tenure
The redshirt sophomore's inconsistent play has contributed to the team's 0-2 start, but those around Petras have praised his leadership and believe Iowa can turn things around.
November 5, 2020
The Iowa football team is 0-2 for the first time since 2000, but there’s confidence, despite the criticism he’s received, that first-year starting quarterback Spencer Petras can lead the Hawkeyes through the adversity.
That’s because recovering from a slow start to the season wouldn’t be the first time Petras has had to overcome a setback in football.
In his freshman season of high school football, Petras was the third string quarterback in his class and also was a defensive lineman. He broke his throwing arm in the second game of the season and was supposed to miss the rest of the season.
“Adversity really got him pumped up,” Petras’ mom, Sarah Petras, said. “And when you can’t have something, yet you want it bad, you try to figure out a way to get it. And he worked so hard, I mean he was like the number one guy running, giving the guys drinks on the sidelines. He always wore his dressed khakis on the sidelines and would give the guys some Gatorade and he had a cast on his arm. But then as soon as that cast was off, he had to play, and he got to play one game even though they said, ‘You know, it’s probably not a good idea — you haven’t been doing anything with that arm for six weeks.’”
After Iowa dropped its second game of the season to Northwestern, 21-20, at Kinnick Stadium, head coach Kirk Ferentz expressed hope for the future after Petras went 26-of-50 and threw three interceptions after having an encouraging start to the game.
Petras found receiver Brandon Smith up high for a TD in the first quarter, but as the game went on, the redshirt sophomore lacked touch on his passes and was frequently inaccurate.
“The bottom line is Spencer is a two-game quarterback right now, so he’s a very young guy,” Ferentz said following the Northwestern game. “This was not a fun experience certainly, wasn’t a great experience for him in that second half, but he’ll grow from this because he’s so conscientious and he works well. He’ll be better for it, but boy, it’s hard in the process, we all know that. It’s just part of the game sometimes, so he’ll get back up on his feet, we’ll go back to work tomorrow and I’m confident he’ll be a better player moving forward, but yeah, that’s certainly something we always worry about.”
Something that is noted by those who know Petras is his leadership ability.
His mother said he got it from being around his father, Adam. But Adam Petras said his son is a natural-born leader.
Spencer Petras also agreed that leadership comes naturally to him. He is a member of the 2020 football leadership group.
“I feel comfortable around my teammates and I think it’s important for the quarterback to be a leader and be able to set the tone and make sure we have good tempo and a good energy about us in practice,” Petras said.
Ferentz has also noticed Petras’ leadership abilities and said he’s improved with every opportunity.
“He acts like you’d want a quarterback to act,” Ferentz said. “But it’s all genuine. It’s not for show or any of that kind of stuff. It’s just who he is, and we’re just thrilled he’s on our football team.”
In Petras’ first game as a starter — a 24-20 loss at Purdue — he went 22-of-39 for 265 yards, while also running in for a score.
Following the performance, Petras said he was nervous to begin the game, but got into a rhythm before fiddling out of it. Petras’ first game as a starter ended with him completing only five of his last 15 pass attempts and failing to lead the Hawkeyes to a game-winning drive in the final two minutes.
Despite the tough start the season, Iowa offensive lineman Coy Cronk was impressed with Petras’ performance.
“I think Spencer handled himself well,” Cronk said. “I think there’s a couple plays where we didn’t keep him clean enough where it would have given him a little bit more time probably, not going to say a TD or anything but definitely some big plays.”
“But I think Spencer handled himself well. Obviously, he wanted to go out there and throw a million TDs but that’s not always realistic, especially for someone’s first start. The poise and his ability to lead when it wasn’t going perfect, I was personally really impressed with.”
For the Bay Area native, it was a journey to get to a Big Ten program. Petras decommitted from Oregon State before committing to Iowa late in the recruiting process in December, 2017.
Now, he has the most experience at quarterback in the locker room and has plenty of talent around him on offense, including receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith, tight end Sam LaPorta, and running back Tyler Goodson.
Spencer’s parents didn’t allow him to play tackle football until the eighth grade, but he started playing sports at 5 years old, including baseball, basketball, and soccer as he was raised in San Rafael, California.
“I can still remember the very first time I took Spencer to a sports camp when he was five years of age and I thought he would not want to get out of the car he’d be a little timid,” Adam Petras said. “As soon as we pulled up to the field and saw kids playing with balls, I mean he just jumped right out of the car and he ran right away from me toward the kids and I thought to myself, ‘Man, this kid really is going for it.’ So he was born that way, very active in sports, and he just followed through and apparently he liked football more than anything else.”
On the playground in grade school, Spencer was already taking a leadership role because he was the quarterback. Starting in sixth grade, Spencer started to play flag football out of a league based in San Francisco. In eighth grade, he played Pop Warner tackle football.
When it came time to go to high school, Spencer chose Marin Catholic in Kentfield, California, because they had the best football program in Spencer’s view. His dad, a retired diagnostic radiologist, told him it to go for it.
But before Spencer’s freshman season, there was a hiccup, at least in his view. Instead of attending optional summer camp, his family went on a trip across Europe.
“He was like, ‘No, no I have to go to these camps, these football camps I got to go to these high football camps,’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry but we’re going to Europe so we’re going to be gone for three weeks buddy,’” Sarah Petras recalled.
Spencer Petras did enjoy touring London, Paris, and Italy, his mom said, but he still brought along his football to practice, which he had to constantly deflate and inflate. He brought it along to Notre Dame, Venice, and Tuscany.
When Spencer returned to California, he didn’t know his team’s playbook and complained to his mom that his life was ruined.
But come sophomore year, Petras became the starting junior varsity quarterback, and was called up to varsity later in the season.
The next year, Petras started as varsity quarterback and was named first-team all-conference and team offensive MVP at the end of the season.
“He’s got great talent,” said Mazi Moayed, Petras’ varsity head coach. “His arm talent — it’s incredible.”
When Petras took over the starting job, he was following in the footsteps of current Los Angeles Rams starting quarterback Jared Goff, who was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Petras shattered Goff’s season yards and TD record at the school during his senior season, having 4,157 passing yards and 50 TDs. Petras broke Marin Catholic’s record in passing yards in a game (502), passing TDs in a game (5), and tied the single game completion percentage record (100 percent).
Petras was named conference player of the year. Petras was also a team captain during his senior season, along with fellow senior Peter Brown, who noted his influence and leadership both on and off the team.
“Very vocal,” said Brown, a wide receiver. “Kind of knew how to always motivate the guys. Very personable, well-liked guy around the locker room, around the team, around the school even, was a very good role model for the younger kids. And then even when he was getting recruited by all these big-name schools — schools were coming by left and right to watch him and stuff — it never changed him. He was just the same Spencer, just kept working hard, still being a great friend, great teammate. So, it was really fun to watch him develop like that and play with him.”
Petras initially verbally committed to Oregon State, but then-head coach Gary Andersen resigned during the season. With Petras’ options open, Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe became interested in him, and he visited the Petras’ house twice.
“He’s a great guy and we snuck in an official visit on a very short notice,” Adam Petras said. “And we liked everything that we saw. We met with Kirk Ferentz that night, had dinner with him also. Coach Ferentz is a great guy and we just felt very good and warm. Iowa has a tremendous history, both athletically at the college football level as well as you hear that people in the Midwest are really good people, nice and polite and true Americans and we felt good about the University of Iowa and that’s why he committed.”
Moayed said Iowa is a good fit for Petras because he likes to work hard and that Iowa is all about the grind. Adam Petras said his son calls Iowa home now, even when he is in California, and that he can see himself settling down in the state when he’s older.
Through two games, Petras is in a tough spot. The signal caller has struggled through two weeks, and some Hawkeye fans are already calling for a different player to take over under center. But Petras possesses the leadership abilities to lead Iowa through that. Petras has faced adversity before in his football career and continues to expect more out of himself. He won’t stop until he gets it.
“My hope for him is to put Iowa in the next tier and be playing in the college football playoffs and taking a crack at the national championship,” Moayed said. “That’s how a guy like Spencer thinks and those are the desires of his heart.”