AMES — Amid the puzzling numbers, the complex formulas, the arcane codes, Iowa State offensive tackle Jacob Gannon finds beautiful challenges.
Sure, majoring in — and mostly mastering — the field of computer science comes with a spreadsheet full of quandaries.
But that’s just how the 6-7, 306-pound senior from Iowa City likes it.
“I like coming in and being able to solve problems every day,” said Gannon, one of two seniors poised to open holes for the Cyclones’ top running backs, Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy. “There’s something different. You can learn a lot. You can always learn more, so you never know too much.”
Gannon’s approach is equally applicable to the class room and the weight room.
He said he’s added 15 good pounds since last fall, which adds another layer to already bulked-up expectations for an offensive line that was defined by the term “banged-up” last season.
“Jacob Gannon is off to an excellent start with his senior training camp,” said ISU Coach Paul Rhoads, whose team seeks to shake off the effects of a 3-9 season. “Very, very pleased with that. We toyed with the idea of maybe moving some tackles around, but with (Offensive Coordinator Mark) Mangino’s system and (Offensive Line Coach Brandon) Blaney’s instruction, very happy with where he is at the right tackle. We need Jacob Gannon to have a big senior year and he’s showing signs of that right now.”
That’s not surprising to the unquestioned leader of the O-line — fellow senior Tom Farniok.
“He’s just a solid player,” said Farniok, who has 35 career starts. “He just does things right all the time and always tries to do well. He cares.”
That’s half the battle.
And a lesser-known fact: Both Gannon and Farniok started in the Cyclones’ landmark 37-31 double overtime upset of then-national championship game contender Oklahoma State in 2011.
Both were redshirt freshmen at the time, though Gannon — who has made eight career starts — was pressed into duty because of Brayden Burris’s injury.
“He’s the type of guy that you need,” Farniok said. “He’s never going to be the flashiest. He’s never going to be a real vocal leader but he’s going to be the type of guy you can lean on to know he’s going to do things right.”
Last season, Gannon and Farniok were among six leading lineman to miss time with an injury.
Rhoads ruefully dubbed it “the year of the MCL,” at the time — and Gannon didn’t elude being a prominent part of it.
He injured that knee ligament in the Oct. 6 loss to Texas Tech and didn’t return until the Nov. 9 setback to TCU.
But that problem’s well behind him — just like most others he ends up solving.
“My knee’s all healed up,” Gannon said “Just a lot stronger. I think our whole team, our whole offensive line has had a really good offseason. One of the best years that I’ve been here, so we’ve made a lot of progress.”
Gannon’s shored up his game enough that when his dad, Brian, stops by quietly to view a practice, there’s little fanfare.
Just a father stopping by to watch his son and his team — no advance notice required.
“I told Jacob his dad was coming and he didn’t even know,” Rhoads said of a recent visit. “No call. No text. “And, I said, ‘No cookies?’ He says, ‘No, nothing.’ That’s what a fifth-year senior gets from home.”
Key words there: Fifth-year senior.
“I think it’s just part of being in my fifth camp,” Gannon said. “He doesn’t have to come in and check on me or make sure everything’s going all right anymore. It’s just another camp.”