VOL. 132 | NO. 255 | Tuesday, December 26, 2017
Iowa State’s Not-So-Secret Weapon: Joel Lanning
By Don Wade
Maybe when Iowa State upset No. 3 Oklahoma 38-31 in early October, you saw the score roll by on the bottom of your television screen. What you probably didn’t see, but need to know in advance of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl this Saturday, is this:
Joel Lanning, No. 7 in your program, played 78 snaps in that game: 57 on defense, 13 on offense and eight on special teams. A quarterback converted to middle linebacker before the season started, Lanning made eight tackles and recovered a fumble against the Sooners. He wound up leading the Cyclones in tackles and was a first-team All-Big 12 selection after the season.
As an offensive weapon that day, the redshirt senior carried the ball nine times for 35 yards and gave Iowa State some key first downs. He also completed 2-of-3 passes for 25 yards.
Iowa State Cyclones linebacker Joel Lanning (7) also played quarterback this season, running often from behind center and shown here running from Kansas safety Bryce Torneden during a 45-0 shutout of the Jayhawks on Oct. 14. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
As a full-time quarterback, Lanning was not unlike Tim Tebow. Teams feared his running more than his passing. Eventually, Iowa State went with a pro-style quarterback no longer in the program. Kyle Kempt has been Iowa State’s quarterback since midseason and he is more a traditional style QB, too.
Lanning makes no apologies for the way he played quarterback and if No. 7 lines up in the backfield against the Memphis Tigers this Saturday, the Iowa State faithful will let you know.
“It’s always fun to have Joel get in the backfield,” said offensive lineman Jake Campos. “And the crowd always loves it.”
So does Lanning, who explains why even as a full-time quarterback people sometimes noted he looked like a linebacker.
“Probably because of the way I run the ball,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to slide and avoid contact. There’s only 12 regular season games, I enjoyed contact.”
That contact came at a different level once he moved to linebacker last spring.
“First day in the spring, he was getting knocked quite a bit,” Campos said. “But he’s got a nose for the ball, natural instincts.”
Lanning’s 110 tackles (9.2 per game) tied him for second in the Big 12 this season. Obviously, he still had the same mindset ramped up to a new dimension: Seek the contact. His five sacks tied him for eighth in the league.
“It blows my mind,” cornerback Brian Peavy said of the transition Lanning has made.
Four times this season, Lanning had 10 or more tackles in a game. He had a career-high 20 tackles (eight solo) against Texas.
Lanning is also on Iowa State’s punt coverage team. He’s done fine work in that role, too.
“He’s made a couple of crucial tackles to not give up big plays,” said receiver Allen Lazard.
So Lanning hesitates to label himself a linebacker.
“Honestly, I’ve only been playing the position for a year,” he said. “I’d like to call myself a linebacker, but I’m just a football player and an athlete. I got a long ways to go as a linebacker.”
As an Iowa boy, he also wrestled. He excelled at it even though it was a secondary sport. Adjusting from one sport to another and one position to another has come easy for him, or so it looks.
Meanwhile, NFL scouts have said they envision him playing on Sundays. As a linebacker. He has a fast motor and the respect and admiration of his teammates. His coach, Matt Campbell, had predicted before the season when he knew Lanning was making a position change, he would be the story of college football. For at least a weekend, when the Cyclones knocked off the Sooners, Lanning was.
“He’s the most versatile player in the country,” Lazard said, adding that he has no doubt that Lanning will be a linebacker running around NFL stadiums. “And I think he’ll play a few other positions as well.”