Spencer Petras emerges as frontrunner in Iowa football’s quarterback competition

While fans saw all three quarterbacks practice on Saturday morning at Kinnick Stadium, senior Spencer Petras took all but one of the first-team reps.


Dimia Burrell

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras throws a ball during a spring practice at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, April 23, 2022.

Chloe Peterson, Assistant Sports Editor

Iowa football senior quarterback Spencer Petras stood near the south end zone of Kinnick Stadium at the beginning of the Hawkeyes’ final spring practice on Saturday morning, throwing consecutive passes to the core wide receiver group.

About 30 yards downfield, Hawkeye quarterbacks Alex Padilla and Joe Labas were splitting reps to Iowa’s tight ends and fullbacks. 

Head coach Kirk Ferentz said in February that Petras, Padilla, and Labas would be in an open competition throughout spring practice for the role of the starting playcaller. Fans at Kinnick Stadium for the Hawkeyes’ open practice on Saturday saw all three contenders run plays.

“The quarterback play, it’s elite at the moment,” senior tight end Sam LaPorta said. “I feel really strongly about all the guys in the room and, you know, I’m excited.”

The Hawkeye quarterbacks had 15 practices throughout the spring session to prove their worth for the starting role. After the final spring practice, Ferentz said Petras, Iowa’s two-year starter, is the leader of the competition.

Overall, yeah,” Ferentz said when asked if Petras is the frontrunner. “But we’re going to keep an open mind. With our whole football team, we’ll keep competing.”

Petras took the vast majority of first-team reps when Iowa scrimmaged on Duke Slater Field Saturday morning. Padilla stepped in for Petras on one snap, completing a handoff before Petras took over again.

Petras overthrew multiple passes as he drove the Hawkeyes downfield, and settled for a field goal on his sole drive of the morning. 

Padilla stepped in with the second team Hawkeye squad after Petras finished on the field. With a quick release, Padilla finished his drive in with the second teamers, finding the north end zone.

While the junior out of Greenwood Village, Colorado, knows he’s a part of a three-way quarterback competition, he’s focusing on individual improvement.

“I feel like, for Spencer, Joe, and myself, we’re all kind of focused on our individual improvement,” Padilla said. “And that’s kind of something that [quarterbacks coach Brian Ferentz] harped upon. We’re just improving in areas that we need to work on and we’re trying to do that every day.”

Individually, Padilla said he is focusing on narrowing his vision this offseason.

“The decision making, and eliminating guys that can lead to me seeing too much,” Padilla said. “I just want to close my vision a little bit, limit the amount of options that I have, so I can get the ball out of my hands fast. That’s one of the biggest things I wanted to work on this offseason.”

Iowa had a slight quarterback competition during the 2021-22 season between Padilla and Petras. Padilla started three games in the back half of the season when Petras started to struggle with accuracy — partly because of a shoulder injury. 

While Padilla started the Hawkeyes’ regular season finale against Nebraska and went 6-of-14 for 73 yards, Petras replaced him after halftime. Petras also started the Big Ten Championship Game and the Citrus Bowl. 

Fans speculated following the Citrus Bowl that Padilla would transfer out of the Iowa program to find a starting job at another school. But the health and human physiology major said on Saturday that he never gave a lot of thought to transferring, and decided a week after the Citrus Bowl that he would return to Iowa for 2022.

“I’m not going to shy away from competition,” Padilla said. “I feel like this situation was really good for me and, you know, to come back into a competition. So, I feel like running away from that wouldn’t be good for me, to have to go into a whole new place, learn a whole new playbook, especially when I feel like I was making strides last season.

“It’s more than just football,” he added. “It’s the school that I go to, what I’m studying, stuff like that. So, it really comes down to football at the end of the day, but there’s a lot more factors that influence that as well.”

Padilla was limited for the beginning of spring practice because of an unspecified injury. Ferentz said Padilla’s injury gave Labas, a redshirt freshman, a chance to make strides at the quarterback position. Labas is in his second year in the program after redshirting 2021-22.

Running with the third-team offense and defense, Labas went 5-of-5 on his first scrimmage drive, culminating in an almost 35-yard touchdown pass. Ferentz said that, while Labas is still relatively new to the program, he has a chance to appear on the field in 2022.

“He’s made progress,” Ferentz said. “He’s doing a good job. He’s still has a lot to learn. We would expect that, certainly do. He has a good attitude, works very hard, very conscientious. As you saw, he does some good things out there.”