Oct. 15, 2009

By Kyle Kensing

Northern Iowa QB Pat Grace is combining aggression and maturity.

Opponents of Northern Iowa’s fourth ranked football team just might have a bone to pick with the cousins of quarterback Pat Grace.

“My older cousins would pick on me when I was little, so I’d try to take some of that out on the playing field,” Grace said.

Years later and now standing 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, Grace continues to take the field with that aggressive mentality. And that has posed problems for foes of third ranked UNI.

“That’s what makes him different from other quarterbacks we’ve had,” said UNI head coach Mark Farley. “As a freshman I tried him out at fullback and linebacker because that’s kind of his personality.”

Power defines Grace’s game. He’s a player who says, “I like to hit,” relying more on force than flash – more guts than glamour.

Typifying that style, Grace suffered a third quarter injury in last Saturday’s 42-27 Missouri Valley Conference road win over North Dakota State but returned to help the Panthers to victory.

“I came out for a couple plays, and the trainers checked me out to make sure I was OK,” he explained. “I just sucked it up and thought I could play the rest of the game. I personally want to be on the field at all times.”

But to remain on the field, Grace has tailored his game to combine this hardnosed approach with a traditional style.

“I think he played quarterback like a linebacker last year,” Farley said. “This year he’s much more poised, but at the same time he still has that toughness.”

 “Some quarterbacks like to sit in the pocket, maybe run down field then step out of bounds. Last year I was always running, taking the hit when maybe I should have slid but that’s just part of my game, what I like to do,” Grace explained. 

Even back in his days taking the field after horseplay with his cousins, Grace said he was playing with a reckless abandon.

“I always got from my coaches when I was little that I had to settle down,” he said. 

“He wants to be live, he wants to be able to run the ball. He’s an aggressive style quarterback, and you don’t want to restrain him from that. But what’s made him successful this year is he’s played within himself and he’s played within the system,” Farley said

He added: “That’s the confidence and maturity you’re seeing come out right now, but he still has that demeanor where he’s going to want to lower his shoulder as much as take a slide.” 

And as a result, the Panthers are winning. The team reached the national semifinals a season ago, and is playing at a high level again this campaign.

UNI is unbeaten since opening week, when the Panthers took current FBS top 10 Iowa to the brink. The Hawkeyes needed two blocked field goal attempts to survive the test, and Grace put up stats comparable to counterpart Rick Stanzi: 270 yards passing and a touchdown vs. 242 yards and a touchdown.

Grace said the showing in Iowa City was a sample of the Panthers’ potential.  

“We have a special thing going this year,” he said. 

Grace’s combination style has been integral in this “special” season. He has 15 passing and four rushing touchdowns for an offense ranked second nationally in points per game at 41.8. 

And according to Farley, when the Panthers are done chasing their dream of a 2009 National Championship and it’s time for Grace to exit the program there could be more special moments on the horizon for his quarterback individually.

“He may not have the body of your typical [pro] quarterback, but I’ll tell you what – he’s got the arm, he’s got the ability, and right now he’s playing with the confidence…of what we all think a quarterback should be.”

Said Grace: “If that time comes and I’m blessed enough to get there, I’ll play any position they want me to play,” he said. “But my dream has always been to play quarterback in the NFL.”